Getting your business partners to follow your lead can be a tough job – especially in the call centre world, where time is money. Natalie Calvert expounds the virtues of following the five Ts.
Let’s start with the basics. If you want to ensure partner organisations follow your example – particularly around customer experience – the first thing to do is to make sure you and your organisation are setting the right example from the start. And that means much more than paying lip service.
Let me share with you a story, where all involved (except Calcom) will have to remain nameless. Sadly, it’s not a one-off; it’s commonplace among the supplier community.
At Calcom we won a great and exciting project – one that was critical to the client teams in developing new advisor, team leader and management career pathways, plus all the associated training and development.
Now, we won this project on a four-way ‘pitch’, had five face-to-face meetings and probably spent in excess of a week writing and developing the solution. All in all, we put in about 20 person days or a month’s worth of work to win it. So the costs in terms of man-hours, collaterals, time and travel were not insignificant.
Then, having been successful, we had the procurement hoop to jump through. This involved a further four meetings – each of which incurred a cost. Initially the client wanted a performance related payment, but soon realised that this was not suitable due to some of their business constraints. Then a risk contract was suggested – we were happy to look at risk and reward – but just risk?
So, finally, we were back to the start point, and further discussions took place regarding terms, delivery schedules, invoicing, payment, copyright and so on. And 10 weeks after the original client stated start date, we started: all in the spirit of partnership.
Then the client team, in our joint partnership approach, went on holiday. We were stuck as they had wanted to work side by side with us so that skills were transferable.
The story goes on. They slipped their internal deadlines but could not move ours as the procurement team stated this would be too difficult to amend on the contracts and would have to stay as it was. So, in our ‘partnership’, we had a team working round the clock, flat out, while the client team frequently missed deadlines as they simply didn’t attach the same urgency around it.
So, what are the lessons we can all learn from this to ensure that partnership organisations follow your example?
For me, there are five key principles: the five Ts.
Lesson 1: Team
Get the right players round the table in the first instance. Involve procurement and relevant departments, for example, HR, IT, marketing and so on. Ensure that everyone is briefed fully and engaged in the process to make it as robust, and yet as flexible, as needed. Build a great team that can work together and deliver; one that has the right skills to ensure that the objectives are achieved.
Lesson 2: Terms
Get these sorted out as quickly, speedily and painlessly as possible. The best contracts are often fleshed out with the most professional procurement people. Well-trained and highly regarded, they understand the win-win nature of a contract and its pricing. They can also act as the arbitrator and mediator if needed.
Terms of reference or service level agreements (SLAs) might also be necessary, or you might want a less formal arrangement. Either way, a regular meeting to review progress and overall partnership status is highly recommended.
This should include:
- Project status – to date and forecasted
- Results achieved
- Key highlights and lowlights
- Financial update
- Customer / client feedback
- Staff feedback
- Events in next month
- Team members update
- Company to company developments
Lesson 3: Trust
If you are going to partner with experts, then trust them to do a good job. Of course put in place project management, quality control mechanisms and reporting that ensures the project ‘deliverables’ are on time, on budget and are delivered to the right quality.
But give your partner the freedom to do a great job for you. Trust them. If you can’t, then either you chose the wrong partner in the first place, or you’re a control freak!
Lesson 4: Talking
Both sides of the agreement involve human beings and we, as humans, need to talk and ensure that not only the written brief is understood but also the spirit and ethos of what the solution needs to be.
Don’t underestimate the value of a great relationship that comes through talking – at all levels in your organisation – so that problems can be quickly addressed and resolved. Agree key persons in the relationship on a formal basis. Make sure each party talks to the other.
Additionally, build in to your plans a troubleshooting / problem solving solution. A good idea is to appoint a mediator – perhaps someone from the procurement team or another external party who can, when the going gets tough, help you to resolve issues in such a way that they don’t leave the relationship in tatters.
Finally, remember that social events can bring new teams together. Consider how they might be useful at the very beginning and at certain intervals during the relationship.
Lesson 5: Timings
Ensure that any partnership agreements are properly managed with project plans that everyone signs up to – including clearly articulated timings and deliverables. And, as and when things go off-course, which they do in the real world, be prepared to act fast and take proactive steps to limit the implications. Whatever you do, don’t let your partner be your scapegoat. In true partnership spirit you have equal responsibility.
So how do you get your partnerships moving in the right direction? For me, it takes five Ts: team, terms, trust, talking and timings.
Now, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating; if you follow these Ts, it’s a recipe for a happy and long partnership together.
Natalie Calvert is managing director at the consultancy Calcom Group
Tel: +44 845 230 8500