EDITOR’S NOTE: This first appeared in our blog, OutieLookingIn.com on Tuesday, Oct. 20th, 2009. I “migrated” it over as part of our online redesign.
When I started Knowledge Passport in the winter of 2007, my goal was to help offshore Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) providers improve their reputation and stake in the US market. My reason was simple enough: I had seen the value these providers offered while I managed the global tech support and telesales channels for a Fortune 50 media company.
Unlike some folks, I recognized a value in the intelligence these providers offered over and above the lower dollar cost. Having MBA level agents on the phones provides a conversation for the business owner far and above the high school equivalency level agent so often found in the US. NOTE: this is not a comment on the quality of the individual, just on the level of conversation one agent gives you over the other. There were important process improvement, call flow tweaks and general marketing messages we missed in bunches because we too often focused on, “getting rid of their accents.”
Anyway, back to the beginning of Knowledge Passport….
I approached my new venture with the self-righteous indignation only a seasoned former executive and somewhat serial entrepreneur can display. In other words, I was arrogant to a fault and spent a lot of time helping the wrong people with the right problem with an idea whose time had not yet come.
I learned a lot from that experience and relearned some previously experienced lessons. I’m happy to share a few of those here and welcome your feedback.
One, everyone looks good on paper. I must have flipped through 100 different provider presentations and listened to almost as many conference calls, webinars and desk-side briefings. The sum total difference in what they all said was captured on less than 10% of their messaging and often times came from someone buried deep in the organization, i.e., probably not someone you will interact with on a day-to-day basis.
Two, most clients really do make decisions based on cost and trends. This was the toughest one for me personally because I always prided myself on choosing providers based on, (1) well researched questions by functional area, (2) a thorough site visit, and (3) a good reference check. Most of my discussions with my former peers when proposing a provider went like this, “that’s great, but what do they cost per hour?” and, “everyone else is going to the Philippines or [fill in the blank with any emerging market].”
Three, the concept of risk management and diversification of providers got killed by the lawyers – the very same people most corporations pay to HELPwith those areas. I watched major corporations tank sales, ruin relationships and in general sour vendor management all for the sake of consolidating contracts, eliminating boutique shops (some of which were the top performers) and you guessed it, lower costs by bundling everything together under one provider roof. My still unproven assumption is it was a way to eliminate reviewing so many contracts and statements-of-work (SOWs).
Finally, don’t be afraid to get down to the tactical level when making strategic level decisions on choosing providers. I would always ask for a resume or CV for the front line managers in our shops. You will be surprised, shocked, amazed and curious at what you find. During one such vendor review for what would become our largest offshore sales campaign, I found a senior delivery manager who 2 months prior was the night manager at a fast food restaurant. She had the years of management experience, but no sales, no contact center experience and very little client interaction skills.
Part of what makes outsourcing effective is the discipline of only outsourcing the process, not the responsibility for making it work. While Knowledge Passport, or KPGS as we’re known today no longer focuses on improving offshore providers, I still believe in the power of placing work in the best possible providers with the tools and resources to make everyone successful – and profitable.