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Why “Trust, But Verify” is Essential in Vendor Management

Why “Trust, But Verify” is Essential in Vendor Management

By Michael Blankman

In my recent article, we concluded that the most important aspect of managing remotely is building a strong and trusting relationship. Creating a partnership that doesn’t rely solely on the contract for the outsourcer to get performance security. The partnership is critical because once operations are outsourced, real influence over daily management will and should be limited, or why outsource at all? The partnership needs to be based on respecting each other’s expertise, ensuring roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that the underlying business model justifying the decision to outsource is protected.

Managing the ongoing performance (real time, daily, weekly, etc.) is the second most important area on which to focus. Performance management is conceptually aligned with the concept of trust, but verify.

Customer service expectations that are critical to the outsourcer can seem at odds with the operational efficiencies targeted by the vendor.

Recapping what we have covered to date:

  • The toughest decision, which is to outsource has been made.
  • A general observation is that businesses aren’t unique and that it is important to let go and to fit into their operating model.
  • The outsourcer has created a small but influential and agile group of subject matter experts to be the primary interface with the vendor; the vendor has assigned dedicated account management.
  • Depending on the size of the business, it is important to accept that the overall number of support and management staff dedicated to a program may be small.

Customer Satisfaction / Quality Management

The vendor and the outsourcer may have service and quality goals, which seem contradictory. Putting a process in place is the moment of truth between the supplier and the vendor. That is why it is critical during due diligence process that the vendor’s commitment to quality is understood that they are not providing lip service or view quality as a necessary evil. A vendor’s true commitment is easy to recognize by understanding what local processes they have in place and if they are followed consistently.

A good way to see if customer service and quality are truly integrated into the management process is to ask the staff their opinion and to find out from them what reward and recognition programs are in place. Everybody in every function, whether or not they are writing code or answering calls, wants an opportunity to be recognized. Integration and consistency, although seemingly obvious, are critical. It is interesting to see how many initiatives are the “flavor of the day” and dwindle in importance, replaced by new programs that also dwindle in importance. For example, consider when the last employee of the month was awarded.

Additionally, during contract negotiations change of control protection is critical. It is very easy for a change in ownership and management philosophy to alter customer service dynamics. This is as important as protecting the financial model contractually.

Qualitative versus Quantitative

Many of the relevant statistics will be relatively easy to track and done systematically.

In call centers, vendors will focus more on agent performance and outsourcers more on qualitative data that will enable them to understand the underlying reasons for a call and to apply that data to specific customers, where appropriate. In the call monitoring process, vendors will target a statistical sample by agent to quantify performance versus call type and client specific metrics favored by the outsourcer. Important also is the ability to disposition calls correctly. Vendors often bristle at free form wrap and want to rely on system driven algorithms to deliver MIS. Attention needs to be paid to the integrity of this process or the data derived will not be useful.

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Call Monitoring: Call monitoring is the best process for both parties to really understand quality and make improvements. It is also labor intensive but can be done efficiently.

The Program

  • Call monitoring has to be a dedicated function on both sides: don’t engage with a vendor unless it is already a part of their quality process.
  • There needs to be agreement on what metrics are tracked during monitoring and the vendor should try to accommodate the outsourcer’s needs, especially where regulatory attention must be paid. Some expansion to the vendor’s current process will most likely have to take place.
  • Whatever the final process looks like the outsourcer will always have to monitor additional calls. There are nuances to the businesses and clients that the vendor will never understand completely. To avoid undue bias and potential line of business conflicts, call monitoring at the vendor should reside as part of an independent quality group. This is not an attempt to create layers – the assumption is that the vendor already has this group in place for their own monitoring and other quality initiatives.

A multi-tiered process should be established. For example:

  • Both quality teams should monitor calls together according to a formalized schedule for calibration purposes. Ultimately the vendor will monitor the majority of the calls therefore both sides need to be in synch.
  • Calls need to be monitored separately as well with the results distributed and reviewed by all parties.
  • Underlying clients, where possible, should be included in some of the monitoring sessions (relationship management should also be involved so the vendor hears the voice of the client).
  • Utilization of third party remote monitoring organizations as an independent counterbalance should also be considered.
  • An underutilized and sometimes poorly managed tool is mystery shopping. Mystery shopping is a tool to gage your own service and an opportunity to compare the metrics and best practices of your competitors. The outsourcer can accomplish mystery shopping internally by calling both competitors and the vendor or by hiring an independent firm.

Anytime multiple sites or vendors can be utilized, the ability to competitively benchmark and drive improvements is enhanced. To emphasize, quality and reward programs need to be consistent and tightly managed with tangible goals.

Michael Blankman, a global outsourcing senior advisor, can be reached at: [email protected]

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