Forging a good vendor management contract is only the start. The challenge is in implementation. By itself, a contract is only a lot of words on paper. What counts is how the vendor implements it, and how the client oversees that implementation. That's the heart of vendor management. When we work with the client, we eventually get to a contract that everyone is happy with. From there, we get it signed. And then that's when the fun really starts.
Throughout this conversation with Jeremy Hyde, the focus is on what happens after the ink dries on the contract. Links to the other articles in this series are included below.
Communicating the Contract Terms to the Team
The people who have to carry out the contract rarely have anything to do with negotiating it. If all they see is the finished product, they'll have no idea why it looks the way it does. They won't know what each side originally wanted but had to give up. The vendor may send a memo to the staff about their new responsibilities under the contract, but a memo is never enough. Even a staff meeting isn't enough to get the full message across.
We always know that no matter how many meetings you have, you've got to constantly communicate internally to make sure everyone understands this is what the contract means. This is how we measure it. This is where we find it. This is where it's visible. This is why it's important. - Neal Topf
The trickiest part is making sure everyone understands why elements of the contract are important. It's too easy for team members to assume that a particular element isn't very important, or to interpret it incorrectly. It takes a lot of effort at the start to make everything crystal clear.
Track Changes in the Contract
No matter how well everyone understands the contract when it starts, changing circumstances can demand action that isn't covered in the original document. That may be because of unforeseen difficulties, or the changes in the client's goals. At the same time, companies are dynamic organizations. Sometimes the person who helped put together the contract moves gets promoted into a different role, or may leave the company for a different job. Whether that happens on the vendor side or the client side, it means someone must inherit an agreement they had no hand in making. Parts that may have looked black-and-white to the original team look a lot more gray to the newcomer. "That's the skill of a vendor manager comes in, to make an interpretation, an evaluation of what the agreement really says, what it means," Topf says. Hyde has been through the process.
Stepping into this role, I inherited contracts and vendors and relationships. I didn't have issues with contracts. I had issues with expectations that were set on day-to-day stuff after the fact, and were not well documented.
The contract may say to handle a situation one way, but a previous vendor manager may have given verbal instructions to do it another way. If that hasn't been documented, the vendor and vendor manager are going to be frustrated with each other, at best.
Sometimes a little Detective Work is Necessary
It takes some detective work to discover why day-to-day operations have drifted away from the original contract. Hyde has heard members of his team complain that a vendor keeps doing something wrong. "Then I dig into it a little bit and I say, 'Hey, did you know we told them to do that? Yeah, that was dumb, but we did it. So we've got to own it." Sometimes, the vendor has to acknowledge that its agents haven't stuck to the plan.
When we get asked, 'Why are you doing this?' we have to dig and find out why we are doing it. Where is the mistake? Did we hire the wrong people? Did we get wrong supervisor? Did we train something incorrectly? Did we train insufficiently? Is our understanding fully out of whack? - Neal Topf
You've got to go through the exercise of looking in a mirror and saying what really happened here. And be honest about it. The more honest and transparent you can be to your clients, it does help put a human face on it. And be prepared to make the adjustments and changes that are necessary. Both the vendor and the client, then, should keep documentation every time there's a change to the original agreement. When someone can point to an email, meeting notes, a contract revision or a new calibration to show why behavior changed, there's less chance for frustration, accusations or misplaced blame.
The vendor-client relationship is a lot like two partners trying to smoothly execute a lot of intricate dance steps. As tempting as it may be to assume that the other person has the primary responsibility, both sides need to see it as a partnership.
A good vendor management contract spells out what success looks like, but also has enough flexibility to roll with the punches life serves up.
About the Customer Care Outsourcing Series
In a series of 3 articles at this blog, industry pros disuss the ins and outs of managing a relationship with an outside contact center:
- Customer Care Outsourcing Part 1: Choosing the Right Contact Center
- Customer Care Outsourcing Part 2: Five Pro Tips on Forging Good Contracts
- Customer Care Outsourcing Part 3: Contract Implementation
Also see these Callzilla case studies:
- Music giant outsources e-commerce customer care for the first time... to Callzilla
- Broadcaster leverages Callzilla to cut customer care response time and add live chat
- Change from offshore to nearshore customer care nets a wireless giant rapid gains
U.S. enterprises put customer care, direct response call handling and technical support in Callzilla's hands to ensure consistently high quality. Callzilla offers customer service, customer retention, technical support, help desk, account management, billing support, product returns, and surveys. We also offer outbound telesales, telemarketing, surveys and more.
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