Outsourcing any aspect of your operations is rarely a walk in the park. For anyone who’s ever been through such a project, the challenges, misunderstandings and potential for clashes when handing responsibility to a third party are likely to have been a source of much stress. Often, should such problems occur, it is found that they are rooted in four core issues – unmet expectations, specification details, challenges in communication and stakeholder management.
Outsourcing veterans are well aware of these issues and the importance of transparency, preparation and due diligence to counter them. However, in the demanding environment of a major outsourcing project, we are often so overwhelmed by the day-to-day issues that we are juggling, we simply do not have the time to consider how the outsourcer themselves may be struggling to manage both the project and their client relationship, while trying to deliver on their promises, especially when any one of these has become a challenge.
It is only fair that you, as the client, should expect to receive the service you contracted for and the value you were told it would deliver. But the danger lies in the unknowns that are frequently missed by both parties, the unasked questions or the gaps between the experience of the partners and the reality of your project, which can all too easily lead to ill-feeling, diminished commercial trust and a risk that the arrangement may ultimately fail.
One way to avoid this is to do something few clients do – and that is to take the time to understand the outsourcing provider’s perspective. This alone can help to mitigate many of the most common frustrations that arise from outsourcing relationships.
To better understand your outsourcing provider, we have put together a list of four primary issues that can hold them back in their efforts to service your needs, issues you can influence to develop a better working relationship, and ultimately a more successful project:
Issue 1: Ill-defined specifications
What some clients neglect to recognise is that very often they are either outsourcing a problem or a function that’s ill-defined. In doing so there will be gaps, ‘unknowns’, that will emerge at some point in the project, often materialising as increased costs, heated email exchanges and friction between client and provider teams. For a provider to be able to add value, or even achieve expectations, they will need to appreciate as clearly as you do what it is that you wish to achieve. Detailed analysis and involvement from all stakeholders and users/potential users, as well as thorough scoping exercises and a fully completed due diligence process, will be required to create a specification that is clear enough for all.
Issue 2: Dictating the ‘how’ not just the ‘what’
Regular readers of our articles will recognise this issue as we discuss it regularly. Control is something that can sometimes be difficult to relinquish, but if you hope to get the best from your provider you must leave ‘how’ they are going to achieve your specified outcomes to them. The specification you create at the outset of a project will identify what you currently have, what you are looking to produce and why. Your selection of a provider will always presumably be down to which organisation you feel is best positioned in capability and capacity to achieve your desired outcomes, so give them the leeway to do what they do best and the space to fully utilise their expertise; do not stifle them with over specification or control.
Issue 3: Accuracy and transparency in your communications
It’s crucial that both the client and provider are transparent and open about their work and that any possible issues are discussed before they are allowed to grow into obstacles that are harder to navigate. Examples of this are your timing and processes when tasks are being undertaken. A provider’s schedule is often reliant on the responsiveness of their client and if delays occur the project schedule may require amendment, causing frustration all round. Transparency, accuracy and the effective communication of this information are all positive deterrents to this frustration.
Issue 4: Complexity underestimation
There is also the imbalance of experience and understanding to account for. It is not uncommon for clients to under-appreciate the technology and integration requirements, the complexity of performance measurement and the need for highly detailed process specifications. While many of today’s end-user applications are intuitive and simple to use, the journey to the final product is rarely smooth and without issue. It is this underestimation of the complexity of the journey that creates a gap between expectation and delivery. For example, new systems do not often work independently, most require integration with other technologies and it is fairly common for clients to assume that the incredibly complex task of connecting legacy systems to new ones will be a standard process handled by the provider. The provider, on the other hand, will assume that the client will inform them if legacy systems exist where compatibility may be an issue. It is easy to see how this misunderstanding and lack of communication can cause a significant delay, increased costs and much stress.
Successfully Navigating a BPO Partnership
The obstacles most commonly seen in BPO client-provider partnerships are rarely deliberate. Many exist for the simple reason that, individually, we forget just how much we know about our own processes and methods, and so much of what we innately understand is often neglected in specifications and scoping exercises, and is frequently assumed to be ‘common sense’.
The challenge for the provider is that these methods and processes differ vastly between organisations. The best way to head off these problems is to discuss your worries with the provider honestly and with an open mind, understanding that there may be problems they are managing that they don’t want to trouble you with.
Essentially, putting yourself in your provider’s shoes can aid communication, avoid misunderstandings and bring you together as a working unit for the good of the project.