Pivoting To Remote Assessments And Management Of
Outsourced Partners

By: Execs In The Know

Ensuring Outsourcing Partnerships Are Set Up for Success

Your outsourced partners play a critical role in providing care to your customers. You expect them to act as an extension of your brand, be aligned with your objectives, meet your performance expectations, provide flexibility to best support your customers, all while paying a fair price. In 2020, these partnerships are more important than ever. As a result, organizations are re-examining their outsourcing business and technological requirements, assessing the capabilities of their existing partners, exploring potential new partners (where existing partners are not able to meet requirements), and adjusting their go-forward management approach in what is now a 100% remote or hybrid remote/ office model.

Conducting physical site visits has long been an integral part of any outsourcing relationship, both in the selection/contracting phase and in ongoing management. However, the current environment has impacted the ability to conduct in-person site visits. Even if that was possible, the reality is that a large percentage of the workforce are still working from home, so there are effectively no sites to visit. So, all organizations have had to pivot to a new way of assessing and managing outsourced partners.

In this article, we will share best practices about process changes organizations can to ensure their outsourcing partnerships are set up for success from the beginning, specifically focusing on how to address the gap caused by the inability to conduct onsite visits.

As we explore ways to navigate this challenge, the silver lining is that it does not have to be as complicated as one might think, and it can potentially be more efficient. The reality is that if your vendor management approach and sourcing process are designed well, you should experience little disruption. Even without being onsite, you will have confidence that you are choosing the right vendor based on your needs and that you are managing your existing relationships effectively.

1. REMOTELY ASSESSING NEW AND EXISTING PARTNERS

Whether you are assessing a potential new partner or an existing one, you need a structured framework that should include four key components:

  1. DEFINE NEEDS AND PRIORITIES: Given the change in how businesses are operating, your requirements have likely changed. So, before you embark in a search for a new partner or you want to assess your current partners, it is important to examine your needs and priorities.
    1. Define specific needs and criteria: Be specific about what you need and the criteria you expect. This includes everything from language, channels, hours of operation, technology, skills, performance levels, account management, security/data privacy, pricing structure, business continuity planning, support processes (i.e. quality, workforce management, recruiting/hiring/training), and so on.
    2. Identify critical areas for assessment: Once you have defined your specific needs and criteria, then determine what is most critical for you to assess in detail. Because you are operating in a mostly remote fashion, you may want to prioritize the most critical areas, and those may have changed given the largely Work-at-Home (WAH) environment.
    3. Ensure stakeholder alignment: It is critical to ensure your internal stakeholders are aligned with your requirements and the priorities you establish. Your organizational priorities may have changed, so ensure you are aligned with those expectations.
    4. Determine reporting deliverable needs: Start with the end in mind. As you think about the assessment and what you hope to achieve, consider what you expect to see at the end of it, and what will be most impactful to both you and your partner. Determine what the output should look like and develop a template in advance.
  2. PLAN AND PREPARE: With any assessment, whether onsite or remote, planning and preparation are critical and perhaps take the most time. But proper planning will be well worth the outcome.
    1. Review existing RFPs and/or contracts: With your needs and priorities defined based on your new reality, the next step is to review in detail your existing RFP documents and contracts, as you may need to make some adjustments. Now is the time to do this regardless of whether you plan to conduct an assessment.
    2. Determine technology/tools needed: As you think about your remote assessment, obviously you will need creative and alternative ways to observe and audit. Web conferencing and screen-sharing capabilities (at a minimum) are needed. You will also need abilities to “shadow” agents as you conduct process and transaction audits – this can often be accomplished via your web conferencing/screen sharing capabilities as well as quality monitoring tools. Additionally, you will need ability to remotely share files and data.
    3. Consider security and privacy concerns: With the technology and remote access required, security and data privacy must be a consideration. So, as you plan for your assessments, you will need to address these with your partners and your internal teams in advance.
    4. Identify staff positions to be interviewed, processes to be audited, and data to be reviewed: You will not have the luxury of spontaneous onsite discussions and shadowing sessions. However, this is something that should be planned
      for regardless of an onsite or remote assessment. Based on your priorities, identify and document the specific staff positions you will want to interview (i.e. agents, team leaders, operations leadership, quality, recruiters, trainers, workforce management, information technology, security, and reporting/analytics). Then, clearly define the types of shadowing sessions you would like to conduct. This should be based on the transaction types your partner is supporting. If your partner has a hybrid model of agents working from home and some on-site, ensure you plan to shadow both. From a data perspective, create a detailed list of the performance data and reporting you want to review as part of your assessment, again based on your specific priorities.
    5. Clearly define “new” process; create assessment tools and report templates: Because auditing and assessing may be a new approach for both you and your partners, spend time clearly laying out the new process and expectations. This involves creating new (or modifying old) assessment tools and templates. This should be extremely structured, consistent, and repeatable down to the specific questions/requirements you will be asking for each area, the data you are requesting, the structure/agenda of each day, and daily debriefing processes.
  3. SCHEDULE AND EXECUTE: Once you have completed planning and preparation, you are ready to go. Because the assessments will be remote, there are few unique aspects to consider in the actual execution.
    1. Clearly communicate process and requirements: First, communicate the new process to new or existing partners. Ensure your partners clearly understand and are aligned with the requirements, expectations, and the process. Important note for existing partners – an important distinction and recommendation is to set the expectation that you may request an assessment at any given time with little notice. If they understand this up front and they have adequately prepared, there should not be a need for much advanced notice, and you will get a more accurate representation of reality.
    2. Provide interview and data requests: With any assessment, it will go much smoother if you provide a detailed interview list and data/document requests in advance. You have already identified what these are, so it is just a matter of providing to your partner. For your existing partner assessments, there may be times you want to conduct a targeted assessment. If so, then you would scale back your requests accordingly.
    3. Verify technology and logistics: Naturally, technology and logistics play a bigger role with remote assessments. So, you will need to work with each partner to ensure the technology and processes exist (or are implemented) for the assessment. This will require testing in advance.
    4. Review process documents and data in advance: To make the most of any assessment, best practice is to review all process document and conduct data analysis prior to the actual assessment. This way you can target your questions and prioritize areas of focus to be more efficient.
    5. Schedule interviews and shadowing sessions: Your review of the data and process documents may very well influence your interviews and shadowing sessions. Coordinate with your partner to make these happen. From a scheduling standpoint, any interviews and shadowing should be conducted based on the partner’s time zone. A couple of best practice tips for interviews and shadowing:
      1. Interviews: If interviewees happen to be onsite but you are not, have your partner secure a conference room where the interviews can take place, with the needed technology available. If interviewees are working from home, time will need to be built into the overall assessment schedule to ensure those individuals have the capabilities to participate remotely.
      2. Shadowing: Note that this is one of the most important aspects of an assessment. This is where you see what is actually happening, so it is critical to set this up
    6. Conduct audit with daily briefings: If you have done your preparation internally and with the partner, the actual audit should go smoothly and efficiently. Most importantly, in the spirit of partnership and improvement, conduct a daily briefing at the end of each day with your primary stakeholder so there are no surprises at the end and so you can adjust your agenda as needed based on what you are finding. Flexibility is key.
  4. REPORT AND COMMUNICATE: Lastly, once you have completed the assessment, provide a complete report and communicate results internally and to the partner. There should be no surprises, but the report should be delivered timely following the assessment. Obviously, the discussion with a potential new vendor is somewhat different from an existing partner, but the goal is the same – to be clear and transparent about the findings and why you are making the decision you are, or why your expectations are what they are.
    1. Compile findings into report: Your assessment team should be compiling this during the assessment, and reviewing as part of the daily briefings, so the final report should not take significant time.
    2. Validate with partner and internal team: Once the report is compiled, validate findings with appropriate stakeholders. At times you may have questions, or something was discovered that has not yet been discussed, so validate as needed to ensure accuracy.
    3. Clearly communicate next steps and expectations: The report and read-out should not simply be an accounting of what was bad or good. They should be comprehensive and include the specific next steps and expectations are from your viewpoint. If you are assessing a prospective new partner, this is likely a communication about your decision and how/why you are making the decision. This should be done live (via web conference) to ensure alignment and understanding.
    4. Provide report to all internal and external stakeholders: After the report is complete and the live read-out is conducted, provide the final report to all stakeholders and schedule follow-up as appropriate based on the next steps determined. The format of this will be different if you are dealing with a prospective partner versus an existing.

As you can see, planning and preparation are key, but a remote assessment can be as effective as an onsite assessment, and potentially even more efficient. Some research is showing that assessments that typically take days can be shortened significantly. There are some nuances if you are assessing a prospective versus an existing partner, but the steps and requirements are the same.

Now, let’s talk about how to effectively manage an existing partner remotely.

2. EFFECTIVELY MANAGING EXISTING PARTNERS REMOTELY

We have discussed how you can still conduct spontaneous assessments of your existing partners without physically going onsite, but how does your approach change to managing their performance in a remote environment? And how do you ensure partner staff remain connected to your brand and aligned to your objectives on a daily basis? There are three key components we will review:

These three areas are always critical and Vendor Management Organizations (VMOs) should have structured approaches in place already, but there are some practices that are best when operating in a mostly remote environment.

  1. PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT: Based on your specific criteria, requirements, and contract in place, you should already have a structured approach to measuring and reviewing results. But in a remote environment, there are some ways to ensure all remain aligned and action can be taken quickly if needed.
    1. Transparent and real-time reporting: This may seem obvious, but many times reporting is delayed or in disparate systems. There is often not a single point of truth that includes all vendors’ performance for each key metric. To identify potential issues quickly and react to them is always important but especially important in a remote environment with management offsite as well.
    2. Daily operational reviews: A best practice is to schedule daily reviews with all vendors in the same meeting. With such a dispersed workforce, it can be incredibly valuable to have daily discussions with the entire network of partners to review key metrics, discuss what is happening across the network, identify any controllable or uncontrollable issues, and share best practices. This level of transparency with the performance data and collaboration is incredibly valuable.
    3. Spontaneous assessments: We already discussed how to conduct spontaneous assessments, but this is a critical aspect of ongoing performance management. It is important to take time either quarterly or every six months to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the entire operation. You can also conduct these more frequently on a targeted basis – i.e. if you feel (based on data) that you need to dig into the quality approach. Best practice is to give little notice for these – this is not to catch people doing something wrong, but to ensure you get the most accurate representation of the operation. This should not be an issue for partners if they are aware of the process and their operation and processes are solid.
  2. COMMUNICATION AND CONNECTION: A frequent question we come across is how to ensure partners’ agents and staff remain connected to the brand. This is difficult in typical times, but especially difficult with such a large percentage working from home and with new hire agents being trained at home. There are some initiatives you can take to ensure your partners remain aligned and connected.
    1. More frequent town halls, fireside chats, or other types of small group sessions: Many times, town halls are scheduled with partner staff as part of the onsite assessments and visits that take place. Because these are not happening, consider scheduling remote town halls more frequently, or inviting them to internal town halls if appropriate.
    2. Ability to submit questions/feedback: In a remote environment, implementing a hotline, information hub, or a form that staff can use to ask questions, provide feedback, or simply stay connected works well. Of course, these must be screened and regularly reviewed, responded to, and actioned to be effective.
    3. Structured communication and update process: This is always important, whether remote or in-person, and for both external and internal staff. Your communication and updates to all agents and staff must be structured and tracked. You do not want to over or under communicate or the message and information will be lost. There should also be a central hub that staff can rely on versus keeping up with email communications or chat messages.
  3. TRAINING AND KNOWLEDGE TRANSFER:
    1. Training and nesting support: Companies are finding that additional training and nesting support is needed in a remote environment. So, if you have a collaborative relationship with your partner, this is a recommendation you can make. In many cases, other resources such as quality resources and team leaders are brought in for nesting to ensure learners feel just as supported as they do in a physical site.
    2. Knowledge checks and verification: You most likely already have knowledge checks and skills verification built into your training curriculum. When training remotely, more frequent checks and real-life practice are required to ensure understanding and mastery of the material, prior to the “final exam.”
    3. Post-training support and resources: When you think about onsite training, one of
      the benefits is that immediately following training, learners are able to turn around and ask their peers, trainers, or supervisors direct questions. While self-paced learning is great (and efficient), one of the downsides is the loss of that spontaneous discussion and learning that happens. Consider alternatives that achieve the same goal, such as “slack” groups or “hangouts” that allow new agents a quick and effective way to reach out to peers and subject matter experts.

Remotely managing your partners does take effort and involves unique approaches to be effective. However, the reality is that you likely have many processes in place already if you are managing partners across the globe. The primary difference now is that so many of your partners’ staff (as well as your team) are working from home. So, there is no site to visit, even if you could. You must make a concerted effort to manage performance, identify outliers, conduct ongoing assessments, collaborate, and maintain that connection.

SUCCEEDING WITH REMOTE ASSESSMENTS AND MANAGEMENT

The important thing to remember in this virtual world we are all operating in today is that many of the same foundations apply. You still need to have clear goals and expectations, a solid plan, and a structured approach to executing. What companies may likely find is that they can be more efficient and effective in evaluating sites remotely. Nothing takes the place of seeing things in action, up close and personal via an actual site visit. But if your processes are designed well and you make well-informed adjustments by collaborating with your stakeholders and partners, you will not lose anything by operating remotely. You might actually gain a lot in the process.

 

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