Our General Manager David Whittaker talks about what makes a good partnership between client and outsourcer.
From a client’s point of view, having a specialist outsourcer like Ascent representing them and dealing directly with their customers is an extension of their own customer facing operational teams. As a result and given regulatory requirements, all business partners are quite rightly under increasing scrutiny, with an ever-growing focus on the outcomes we are delivering for customers.
In my many years of experience, I find that forming an open, transparent partnership approach between client and supplier is the best way to achieve the best outcome for both sides. It may sound old-fashioned, but I really believe that open dialogue via face to face meetings or picking up the phone are key to a good partnership and harnessing solid relationships.
It also helps when clients are able to meet with and form relationships with various key people across our business, from relationship management to operations and conduct & risk, rather than everything being routed through one person. In my experience, clients want to know who is best placed to help them in a variety of scenarios, who is doing and responsible for the work, and be clear on who to approach if they need to escalate an issue.
Of course, you don’t have to be best of friends, but it helps if relationships are warm and genuine. This helps both parties feel that they can talk freely without fear of judgement, sharing ideas and thoughts about making things even better. When a client trusts you enough to call and ask for your advice on something, you know you are doing a good job.
Regular interactions – whether they are scheduled or unscheduled, face-to-face meetings or video conferences – help build a good working relationship, and they work best when both parties are able to have meaningful dialogue. This is much more constructive than receiving an unexpected email full of instructions where we’ve had no opportunity to provide any input or possibly work together to form a better solution.
I also find that given the large volume of customers we interact with, clients expect and appreciate transparency. When something doesn’t go according to plan, they want us to be open about what’s happened and if needed, explain how we will remediate it. These incidents are thankfully few and far between, but it’s good for both parties to work together to find a solution and ensure any future repetition is avoided.
From our point of view, when there are changes to make or additional tasks for us to take on, it’s helpful if the client is realistic about timescales, and appreciative that some things might take longer than others. We want our clients to trust that we will always want to do the best for them and the right thing for their customers, but often there’s a change process to be agreed, and perhaps further recruitment and training needed. Sometimes if we were to rush a change through without the adequate understanding or preparation it could cause a problem rather than resolve one – for example, we might end up failing to meet desired SLAs or generate customer complaints. It’s great when we are able to have a sensible conversation with a client about what is required and then adapt this into a mutually agreed plan of delivery that will work for all parties.
There are often occasions when a client needs us to go the extra mile, and we want to be adaptable to that as much as possible. If there’s an urgent need or something unexpected then we have to be honest about what’s achievable. Often clients have asked us to take on additional work at short notice, and obviously this is something we are extremely keen to help with. This has worked best when we’ve had an open dialogue about what we can realistically do by a given date and work together to deliver it.
Sometimes we get short-notice requests for information. We’d like clients to trust that if we say we can’t do something it’s because we can’t, not because we don’t want to. We will always help provide what we can if we are able to deliver to the requirements – but it’s great when a client appreciates we have a commercial model and that we’re trying to achieve the best results for them, their customers and ourselves.
What works really well is when clients provide us with feedback on our performance through the likes of league tables and dashboards – it’s really rewarding for us to get recognition when we’re doing well and share this with our teams. We want to be in first place on any league table, and through a dashboard or league table, clients can also influence how we approach our strategies. For example, if a key focus is achieving a desirable outcome, and doing so will give us maximum points, then we will prioritise achieving that, but clearly only when it also achieves the appropriate customer outcome.
It works even better if, when strong consistent performance is delivered, it results in allocation share or additional work opportunities. This really motivates our teams to stay on top of their game and not get complacent about their leading position.
Having the opportunity to meet with operational teams of our clients has proved beneficial for both parties. Whilst we are all busy and time is precious, being able to outline what we do and how has highlighted process improvements or changes that lead to improved process efficiency. This is in addition to generally educating teams on the part we play, which ultimately helps improve their knowledge and understanding.
In summary, ultimately we recognise we have to deliver for our clients and their customers. Emails do have a part to play in cascading detailed information, but it’s good to talk. Forming good relationships are key to a successful ongoing partnership, so our doors (and phone lines!) are always open if you’d like a chat.