Part of managing outsourcing relationships means, on occasion, you need to onboard a new outsourcing partner. If you have already worked through key strategies to align outsourcers, and addressed any issues surrounding partner performance improvement, you may find yourself in need of selecting and onboarding a new partner to replace one you had to exit. Or, on a brighter note, perhaps your organization has grown and you need to add additional resources.
Whatever the reason, the idea of selecting and onboarding an outsourcing partner can be overwhelming or, at a minimum, an annoyance. After all, it’s not as if you just run out and select a new partner. There is much to consider, including:
- Impact to your organization – what internal resources are needed to ensure a smooth onboarding process? What about timing? Is there a seasonal element to consider?
- Goals and success metrics – are you solid on the success metrics for your organization as a whole and how the new partner will play a role in achieving these metrics?
- Partner readiness – how do you ascertain the readiness of your potential new partner and your organization to ensure alignment and a positive onboarding process?
To support you in making the best decision, we reached out to industry veteran and subject matter expert, Mike Neeson, senior contact services manager of Andersen Windows. The organization began outsourcing in 1995, and through the years, Mike and team have developed a series of best practices to ensure they always have the right partners and can adjust quickly and easily when needed.
If you are researching potential partners, or ready to make an adjustment in your current mix, Humach has a breadth and depth of experience, coupled with savvy agents and premier technology, to support your needs. Contact us to learn more.
It can be attractive to decide your outsource partner should be a big player in the industry. Or perhaps budget concerns make a smaller group attractive, as they are able to compete on price. However, there is much more to consider.
“A strong consideration is finding an outsource partner that is the right size. Over the years, we have evaluated a number of partners, and learned that we neither wish to be the smallest fish in a large pond nor the biggest fish in a small pond,” says Neeson. “It’s easy to become enamored with a large outsourcing organization that makes big promises, but you must consider your business needs first.”
Neeson shared that Andersen Windows has a seasonal component to their business. In addition, the company requires approximately 200 seats to properly accommodate the million or so calls they receive annually. Therefore, they prefer to align with an organization that is experienced in engagements of their size and understands the needs of a business that is seasonal.
“Finding the partner who is comfortable in the engagement size you have is critical. Too large and you’ll not get what you need; too small and you will struggle to help the partner come up to speed.”
Location, Location, Location
Location needs will vary based on your primary goals and type of outsourcing support required. Yet it is an important consideration, particularly when thinking through the logistics of onboarding a new partner. How much training will the partner need? Must it be done in person, or is remote training sufficient? If you are thinking of offshoring, how will you accommodate any geographic or time zone issues?
For Neeson’s team, location is crucial, as they spend a lot of time at the outsource partner’s location providing hands-on training. When you have a need to spend a lot of time at your outsource partner’s location, travel costs become a larger factor. It’s nice to be within driving distance, allowing for more than one team member to visit.
“Regardless of your specific needs, I believe it is important to plan regular visits to your outsource partners to build relationships and ensure they are engaged. You have to show you care about them, your brand, and the quality of service being delivered,” says Neeson.
Birds of a Feather
When choosing and onboarding a new partner, it is important to ensure they have the right experience to handle the type of transactions your customers will send their way. For example, if you have long call times and complex issues, does the outsource partner have experience with these types of transactions? It will not set anyone up for success if you send your complex transactions to an outsource partner that primarily focuses on short, first-call resolution type transactions.
“We look for partners that can handle the style of calls we receive. Our average call time is about 13 minutes, and the agents will handle approximately 40 calls per day,” says Neeson. “That said, they most likely won’t get the same call twice. There are different products, vintages, and ages to consider. A good fit for us is an outsource partner who has experience working with appliances, electronics, maybe plumbing supplies – basically the types of transactions where the agent must ask multiple questions to get to the best answer. We look for a partner who has some clients that require that level of diagnostic troubleshooting, so I know they are already accomplished at that type of training, coaching, and QA.”
While Neeson does not look for an organization with experience in windows, he does look for organizations with experience in the style of transaction needed to support his customers. Understanding the nuances of your transactions, as well as the way customers wish to be communicated with, is key in selecting and onboarding new outsource partners. As part of this, the labor pool available to the partner is key.
“Our transactions are complex, so it’s important that our partners are able to draw from a large enough and sophisticated enough labor pool to fulfill the needs of our customers,” says Neeson.
Does the Shoe Fit?
Once you’ve found a partner that is the right size, with an understanding of your transactions, and in a location that is acceptable, you should be ready to roll, right? Not quite. That is just the beginning. If you are thinking you can simply throw your business over the fence at the outsource partner and have it work, think again. In addition to the investment in training during onboarding, there is an ongoing relationship to be built. This includes ensuring an alignment with your business goals and culture, commitment to success, and willingness to deploy a model that is in alignment with your organization.
“My expectation is that our outsource partners have a commitment to continuous improvement and collaboration. We always have two outsource partners, and my expectation is we all share best practices and solutions in order to get better,” says Neeson.
Another criterion that is important to Neeson is the partner’s willingness to adopt their risk/reward model.
“We have found that using an hourly model works best for us. We then tack on a small percentage for risk. If they meet all agreed upon metrics, they get that money back. If they exceed those expectations, they get an incentive on top of that. It provides tangible rewards and drives good behavior and performance.”
On the flip side, is your organization prepared to step up and be a good partner? A big focus for Neeson and team is fully investing in their partners. They spend a lot of time, particularly in the beginning, ensuring the partner is well trained and understands the product mix. They make regular visits to the partner sites, including with senior executives, and they treat them like part of the Andersen Windows’ team. This ensures that the partner is set up to be successful and engaged.
“During one of our trips to a partner, a senior executive noted that the agents spoke as if they worked for Andersen, rather than the outsource partner company,” says Neeson. “That is a testament to the dedication they have in our success, as well as our commitment to them as part of the team.”
Always Be Prepared
While Neeson feels fortunate to have minimal turnover in their outsource partners, he recognizes that the ever-shifting business climate can force adjustments. For example, in a prior position he lost a great outsource partner due to a larger company buying them, and then adjusting the entire focus of the organization.
“I always have one or two potential partners in my back pocket, not because I’m unhappy with my current ones, but simply because I recognize that things can shift. There can be a buyout and the structure of the outsource partner changes. Or there can be an economic shift and the labor pool dries up,” says Neeson. “Whatever the case, it’s good business to keep a short list of potential partners just in case.”