As an experienced service provider, we think we understand what makes a good outsourcing operation. We focus on service levels, customer service, managing cost and attrition, and profitability.
But do we understand the customer perspective? I think that “we think" we do, but our perspective is often skewed by the challenges of customer service. Let’s face it, customers are not always reasonable, understanding or partnering. Sometimes we need to put on our “Customer Glasses” and see things through their eyes.
With that in mind, here are five questions customers should ask themselves before going into outsourcing:
1. Do I really want to outsource ?
- Having well-defined outcomes is critical to the success of an outsourcing function. If the answer is yes, am I clear on the impact to the business? If outsourcing doesn’t work, what are the risks and how do I mitigate them? If outsourcing does work, are there going to impacts to my customers or internal staff? What am I looking to gain? Is this about cost savings, efficiency and/or performance improvement? If it’s cost savings, am I confident that I will achieve the savings? If it’s efficiency or performance improvement, how will I measure the benefits?
- If the answer is no, then why am I doing it?
2. Do I have a realistic plan on how to transition the function?
- What is my communication plan to my customers, vendors, staff, departments and management? Too often, the communication plan is weak or nonexistent, and parties are either unaware or ill-informed about changes that will occur. For example, a department that relies on another department, such as sales and customer service, for activities must be aware of and aligned with any operational changes that will occur. All parties must understand the service levels and escalation paths to ensure that business operations are not impacted by such changes.
- What is the plan and timeline to execute the transition? Do I think that the timeline realistic?
- How will outsourcing staff be trained and how long will they take to get “up to speed”? What do I do in the interim to ensure no impact to customers and productivity?
3. How well does my function operate today?
- The first step in solving a problem is recognizing that a problem exists. Is my outsourcing service provider aware of the issues in my current operation? What are its plans to address them and improve the operation? What do I expect in terms of improvements: quantity, quality, etc?
4. Am I comfortable that the vendor will deliver?
- If yes, am I clear on what the expected timing and outcomes will be?
- If no, have I addressed my concerns with the vendor? What is my commitment, and how can I take it back if they fail to perform?
5. Is the deal good for both parties?
- I know what I am looking for, but is the vendor getting what they need? What is the impact to both of us from a low cost deal? For example, low fees may result in high attrition, as the vendor “underhires” and either does not attract good people or loses them to better paying jobs. Low fees may also result in short changing the operation, as the vendor may be unwilling or unable to invest to improve business operations and performance. Am I willing to live with this?
- As an outsourcing service provider, it is important that we go into a new customer relationship with empathy and perspective. Especially with customers who are new to outsourcing, it is our job to wear the “Customer Hat” and make sure that ask all the “right questions.” If they don't, it is our job to ask and answer them anyway. Providing advice and guidance, up front, and having a truly honest and open dialogue, will make the transition to outsourcing smoother, and help to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.