Transformation: It's Not Just for Sunny Days

It’s not a new conversation, and it really should be the foundation of every strategic conversation between a BPO provider and their client: how are we transforming your business?

The real value of a BPO relationship comes from more than just cost savings and efficiency, and even more than super high quality outcomes at the customer level.  These providers are a rich source of information, trying, testing and implementing new initiatives all the time across a range of industries and services – and the lessons should be helping to stimulate a perpetually evolving plan to create better outcomes for the customers and involved businesses alike.

Transformative planning is a really exciting process, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an executive who didn’t have this as one of their key expectations of the BPO relationship.  But the reality is that when a relationship is new, when performance may not be as stable as you’d like, or when there’s a lot of “noise” in the air, it can be easy to step back from this discussion.  It’s not the right time – we just need to get this sorted out – let’s wait until things are stable.

It’s common, easy and understandable that excuses are made for focusing on right now instead of the next phase, but even when your combined focus needs to be on stability and predictability, there is ALWAYS space to look forward.  While the business planning cycle is a great catalyst for these sorts of conversations, the thinking – and the actions – that deliver real, tangible benefits are part of everyday practice. All it takes is a little discipline and thinking about transformation as more than just a sunny day conversation.

Here are some of our tips for keeping focused on transformation all year round.

Know where you’re going

There are two pretty clear sweet spots for sitting down and working out where you want to take your partnership: when you start, and when things are running smoothly.

When you first establish your BPO-client relationship, everything is rosy and it’s so easy to talk about the end goal of the engagement.  Moving to an award-winning customer centric contact centre environment, driving dramatic shifts to digital channels and repositioning voice as a complex case management channel, creating a sales culture where a service environment existed – anything seems possible.  This is a fantastic time to agree the broad stroke plan and know what the top priorities are.  Then as the service settles in and the day-to-day requires focus, you have a clear guiding star to pursue.

When you’ve been working together for a while and everything is running smoothly, you have the chance to sit together and think about the strengths of the relationship and what has challenged the engagement so far.  You can discuss what you want to change, what opportunities you’ve seen to date, and agree which are the priority.  Setting the plan in place based on this experience means you’re drawing on your shared reality to understand the baseline, as well as having a strong understanding of how you work together and what will therefore be achievable in certain timeframes.

But there is a third time when you should be talking transformation: when things aren’t as stable as you’d like.  Whether it’s an external factor challenging core performance or a basic slip-up, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be agreeing where you want to go.  Recovery is the first step – get back to that predictable, stable position – but it’s a great time to look at where you want to go beyond that.

For example, if you’ve been missing your AHT target, there are two clear paths: a recovery plan will get you back to target, but if the long-term goal is changing the channel to be customer centric or increase first call resolution, then maybe chasing that AHT target shouldn’t be the priority.  Maybe this is the chance to see what is happening in that longer call time, and empower the team to have the right customer conversations to hit that long term goal – rather than drilling in a performance expectation you’re about to reverse.

It’s still critical to have the right transformation conversation at the right time – and non-performance shouldn’t be dismissed as an acceptable stepping stone to a future state that hasn’t been agreed.  But any time you’re setting a plan in motion that will change the state of play for your contact centre, you should be thinking about where you want to end up – and don’t be afraid to aim a little higher.

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Get the framework right: it’s no one person’s job

Most relationships are set up with a primary contact point on both sides – someone who spearheads both strategic and performance conversations.  And when the focus needs to be on core performance or response to an urgent issue, it’s entirely appropriate to be discussing that plan of attack rather than focusing on new initiatives or the strategic plan.

But these aren’t the only people on the account – there can be hundreds of people in your team working on this client account, and if they know where you’re headed, they’ll be capturing ideas and seeing opportunities even during busy periods – and all you need to do is capture them. Make sure your team know what the transformation plan is, so they can help you to see any obstacles – and help you find the ways around them.

It’s really important if you’re accessing the collective brainpower of your amazing frontline team that you let them know where things are up to – sending creative solutions into a black hole without feedback is disheartening, and will quickly disenchant your team.  If you’re leading the team and need to be focused on the current issue, still make sure you’ve got 15 minutes in your week to check on initiatives raised and to acknowledge them with whoever put them forward.  And as soon as things settle down, get into assessing, fleshing out and prioritising them – even if they seem too left field or aren’t viable, it’s critical that you acknowledge them and share the outcome of the review publicly.

You’ve got so many brains to access – get them onto the right problem, and let them loose!

Be courageous

Choosing to transform a business takes courage on both sides – even beyond any commercial discussions about co-investing or risk and reward.

Many transformative plans require investment, and most of them if implemented successfully will result in reduced costs for the client – which means reduced revenue for the BPO.  The return on investment focus for both businesses needs to be key – and the reasons for the change need to be front of mind at all times.  What’s the impact to the end customer, to the business shareholders, to the frontline teams. How is this making a difference?  WHY are we transforming this business?

Making brave recommendations about opportunities becomes easier with these things in mind – but it has to come from a place of trust.  You have to be in it together – striving, creating and winning together.  And when that’s the foundation of your relationship, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working together, or what the current state of play is; that’s when truly transformative outcomes become reality.


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