By Sarra Bejaoui, SmartPA Founder
As my colleagues will no doubt testify, I’m often to be heard talking about just how important it is to put yourself in your clients’ shoes. So it was fascinating for me to read this article on Forbes.com: What Is Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)?
As SmartPA is a leading provider of outsourced admin and business support services, it was good for me to go back to basics and think about the sorts of things clients are considering when looking for an outsourcing partner.
The article lists the 9 common benefits of Business Process Outsourcing (greater operational flexibility, access to innovative technologies, access to top talent, cost savings, access to advanced and quick reporting, better change responses, specialised risk management, and a greater competitive advantage).
All of the above are benefits quite rightly associated with BPO, but it was the next section, ‘6 Common Disadvantages of Business Process Outsourcing’, that stopped me in my tracks. Should the listed points always be disadvantages, I thought, and what can we as outsourcers do to overcome them?
Let me tackle each of the points in turn:
1. Public backlash.
The argument goes that if outsourcing companies hire talent from across the globe, public opinion may be adversely affected by the perception that the business is sacrificing domestic jobs. Customers may also, says the writer, associate non-domestic talent with lower quality.
Let me say first that hiring from a global talent pool can deliver many advantages. In fact, in some cases (e.g. time-zone, skills or language requirements) it may be the only viable option. And bear in mind that the best skillsets are not always found in the same geographic location. In short, for any self-respecting BPO provider, service quality should not be a matter of geography. Rather, it should be a reflection of that organisation’s vision, culture, service design, quality assurance, service levels and, above all, how they induct and train their people.
Ensure you partner with an ethical BPO provider that matches your organisation’s values while offering competitive salaries, career-enhancing training and people rewards to unleash a happy, motivated and driven workforce.
2. Learning curve.
Inevitably, any new relationships need a ‘getting to know you’ period. However, top of class service providers will be able to provide a sample implementation and training plan that identifies the steps and diligence required, as well as defining clear milestones and success objectives throughout the journey.
Select a BPO partner that proactively offers a phased and comprehensive approach to implementation. Your BPO partner should be prompting you with considerations and recommendations for integration, and they should outline a plan that embraces the change curve and takes all stakeholders on a seamless journey.
3. Loss of control.
When companies outsource, do they lose control of oversight? Well, I’d argue you should gain more control without having to spend large amounts of time on micro-management. Any provider worth their salt should deliver transparent, quality control frameworks with regular built in reviews and approvals.
Only consider a service provider if they offer a governance and account management process that ensures you are fully aware of what’s going on, and you remain in control, at every step.
4. Communication breakdowns.
As with control, a robust and transparent account management approach that incorporates regular reviews and reporting will negate any communications issues.
Look for a genuinely customer-centric partner focused on building strong and robust client relationships. A provider with this approach will drive authentic conversations and deliver mutual understanding.
5. Hidden costs.
I agree absolutely with this advice: “It is imperative to look over contracts thoroughly and with a legal understanding to avoid hidden costs that could pose a problem later.”
My own view on this has always been the same. If a provider is evasive, or less then clear, about costs from the outset, then are they really likely to deliver the level of trust you’ll need in a long-term business partnership?
Any reputable supplier should show cost information very clearly in their contract at the outset. If you feel proposed cost structures are not 100% clear, call it out and ask for clarity.
6. Shared reputational risk.
“For example, if a BPO company relies on grossly underpaid labour, its clients’ reputations may suffer due to the benefits they received via immorally outsourced labour.”
This is a really important aspect in the wider BPO market and one which requires proper due diligence. What do you know about the prospective BPO’s employee experience - not just their employee strategy, but the actual, lived experience of their people? Are they genuinely passionate about their people and do they ensure they‘re properly rewarded and supported?
I’d suggest you partner with a provider that has a tangible ESG strategy and wants to do good with their organisation. Look for evidence and ask for examples; is their commitment for real or do they just talk the talk? When it comes to the employee experience, the best place to start is the employer’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP), so ask to see their EVP document. And carrying out a detailed review of governance is also crucial when it comes to shared reputational risk; you need to be certain that your partner is stringent in their measures to manage cyber security, confidentiality, and people risk.
I certainly found it useful to compare the perceived disadvantages in the article to our own experiences at SmartPA and it was good to step into the client’s shoes as part of the exercise. If you’re considering any form of outsourcing now or in the future, I do hope you find my advice valuable.
About Sarra and SmartPA
A career admin professional, Sarra Bejaoui is the founder of SmartPA. SmartPA is a pioneer of remote, outsourced admin and business support, providing individual SmartPAs, multi-skilled cross-functional teams, and full lift and drop admin process outsourcing. Working with more than 5,000 businesses of all sizes world-wide, SmartPA draws on a global talent pool of accredited SmartPAs, with a Centre of Excellence based in the UK, near shore hubs in South Africa and Uganda, and an offshore hub in Malaysia.