Posted: 17th August 2018

One of things we find clients continually calling out for when choosing an outsourcing partner is flexibility. Finding a partner that will tailor their offerings to clients’ needs has become something of a key requirement for firms seeking to outsource operations.

Our experience tells us that, when managed correctly, a flexible outsourcing agreement can be hugely beneficial to both client and outsource partner. The ability to adapt to changing business requirements should be considered central to any negotiation around an outsource agreement.

But what is a flexible agreement?

No matter how well planned, estimated resource requirements cannot always predict customer behaviour. Regulatory action, complaint management company activity, or media attention can all cause upward momentum in the level of customer interaction; sometimes leading to challenging spikes in activity. The ability to increase or decrease the level of resources on the ground—with minimal notice—will usually provide a layer of comfort for clients. Knowing that their partner will be able to adapt to whatever the market throws at them can help make partnering decisions much easier.

Of course, clients might also require flexibility in areas apart from the number of people at desks. They could, at any point, need to completely change the focus of the work being undertaken, be it for the short or long term. It is not unheard of for relatively large numbers of people to be moved from handling complaints to processing information requests (and maybe back again!) with less than a week’s notice. It is this level of agility that many clients have come to expect from their outsource partners.

Sudden peaks in call or complaint volumes will often cause immediate strain at the time they occur, but there are also a number of potential downstream impacts that can result from spikes to consider. Flexibility of skill-set and speed of response could make the difference between hitting or missing regulatory service-level agreements (SLAs) during or after spikes.

A multi-skilled resource pool, often deployable in ‘ready-made’ teams, not only provides agility, but also reduces the lengthy ‘bedding in’ periods associated with resource deployment. These teams, which will arrive prepared, trained and ready for business, truly make outsource partners flexible and, thus, attractive to clients.

Another key enabler to flexibility is an appropriate service agreement that caters for changing requirements from the outset, without the need to continuously re-draft contracts—a process that can often take longer than the work that needs to be done and incur unforeseen costs. The beauty of an over-arching ‘contract for services’, as opposed to a contract covering a single, pre-determined piece of work, is that it facilitates swift mobilisation of resources via individual work orders, catering for each specific work requirement. These can be activated with minimal effort, freeing up people to get on with what they do best.

“Where would I put them?”

Perhaps the most common challenge faced when trying to meet ever-changing business requirements is that of office space. “Even if I could get that many people, I wouldn’t have anywhere to put them!” is something we hear time and time again from ‘Heads of’ trying meet customer and regulatory commitments whilst juggling space and budget constraints.

From Huntswood’s experience, we have found success in a modular approach to managing space, opening and closing office areas as determined by the requirements of each project. By keeping our spaces flexible (for example, utilising temporary walls and ‘hot-desks’) we can quickly increase or decrease the area in which we work, so our clients don’t have to worry about where to house the people that will deal with the next emerging issue.

The right technology

With human resources and space taken care of, the support of a robust technology platform will be the final piece of the outsourcing agreement puzzle.

Leveraging up-to-date technology solutions will provide a great deal of flexibility. The best technology solution will deliver consistent uptime performance, allowing for the delivery of a steady flow of high quality work and continuity of service. The ability to have your own systems hosted off-site means that your outsource partner will come to be seen as a simple extension to your own operation, no matter how big or how small.

Outsource partners and their clients will also need to implement a robust control framework around the management, sharing and processing of data. This framework should be at the heart of any operation dealing with customer information, especially considering the current cyber-security climate and following the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. Ensuring continued (if not increased) customer trust in the management of their data is as important to the client as it is to every individual customer.

Having the appropriate technological solution in place, as well as the advisory back-up of regulatory experts, will give you the control and insight you need to maintain your business as seamlessly as you would in your own environment.

Huntswood’s centres of excellence in Reading and Liverpool provide fantastic bases for us to run your programme, in a totally scalable, flexible manner. Our outsourcing experts will help you deliver exceptional customer outcomes and manage those challenging spikes through the ideal blend of tech and people power.

Tom mcneil

Tom McNeil

Senior Delivery Manager