When you decide to start a program with an outsourcing provider, you are committing to a relationship. You have to work closely with your new "partner." Like any committed relationship, how well you communicate will determine how happy you are and how long the relationship lasts.
In most outsourcing relationships, the vendor wants to talk to you all the time, especially about expanding your current program or buying a new service. Likewise, you will want to talk about improving services and lowering costs. While you and your vendor have different needs, you both have a common goal: To make your outsourcing program work! How do you work together to communicate effectively?
The two most important factors in good communication on an outsourcing project are commitment to regular program reviews and agreed upon language for discussing issues. You can achieve this by following these five steps:
SLAs and Metrics
As early as possible you need to agree with your vendor on the tangible, numeric measures for your program. What are the service levels your program need and how do you define the measurements (metrics) that verify you received these service levels? This includes meeting deadlines, defining and meeting quality measures, and maintaining staff productivity. Without metrics to guide the conversation, a discussion about improvement issues usually goes, "The service isn't very good." With well-defined metrics, the discussion changes to, "The quality score for each project must improve from 90% to 94% within 60 days." Vague conversations are transformed into focused discussions about meeting measurable goals.
Once you identify the right metrics, you need to report on them monthly. Don't be surprised if there is disagreement over how numbers were defined or collected. This is normal, especially the first time you create a management report. Over time the report will improve, and you will have time to rethink the importance of different metrics.
Once some initial problems are worked out, your program will fall into a regular rhythm. Part of that rhythm is a monthly meeting with your vendor. When you don't meet, problems build up and eventually a crisis develops. Your monthly meeting should review metrics, identify improvement initiatives, and discuss any new business. The monthly agenda is absolutely critical to the meeting, and must be delivered a few days before you meet.
You also need three quarterly meetings and one annual meeting (each of which can replace a monthly meeting). Because improvement initiatives take weeks or months to show progress, discussing initiatives in a quarterly meeting is more productive than discussing the same initiatives every month. Likewise, the annual meeting is a better timeframe for looking back on the total success and challenges of your outsourcing program: What was accomplished, how has the program changed, and what can we expect in the coming year?
Meetings without the right attendees are not productive. Both the vendor and the client need to commit time to management meetings. When sponsors of an outsourcing program fail to show up at quarterly or annual meetings, it is a sign of management problems. While monthly meetings can have more junior attendees, a constant downgrading of attendee seniority is another sign of management problems. Make sure that managers are receiving the content they need, or they will have no reason to attend. Remember, once managers stop paying attention to program meetings, just a little while later they will stop paying attention to the program.
If you establish a common language for communication and agree to a regular rhythm of meetings, you will identify problems in their earliest stages and prevent operational issues from damaging the relationship with your vendor. Providing attendees with a management report and agenda before the meeting not only helps attendees understand why they need to attend, it also gives them what they need to meaningfully participate in the discussion. If you already have a difficult relationship with your vendor, follow these steps and you might be surprised by how quickly the relationship improves!