Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Be Always Careful When Outsourcing.

Outsourcing anyone?
Much to my regret (or maybe not that much) the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to live some really regrettable, but certainly very revealing, experiences which have been the inspiration to more than one entry in this blog.

And I say unfortunate because in such a highly technologically advanced world in which we’re living, filling our mouths by announcing to everybody the many innovations we come up with every single day to make our lives easier, more productive, supposedly to better communicate with others, it’s really hard for me to confirm we are forgetting about the most fundamental of things: this whole thing is about people, human beings just like you and me.

But those experiences have also been revealing as they definitely proved that most entrepreneurs and business owners (which after all, are people too) remain as innocent as they’ve always been and still think that tools alone will solve their lives and will become the Solomonic solution their businesses need to succeed.

I cross my fingers and wish you're not one of them. Hopefully you're one of those few business owners who clearly recognizes that, on top of everything, the cornerstone of your business is its customers, and that those customers are human beings at the end of the day.

Customers are not always right, but they are always your customers to begin with.

We got used to saying customers were always right, but as the times have progressed and we have all moved on, we have already came to realize "our customers are not always right, but they will always be our customers", and whether you like it or not, and to put it down with the easiest words possible, your pocket along with your business depends on them.

When outsourcing areas within your relationship with customers can become a problem?

Your business grows as your customer base grows. They go together. As you get more customers, your sales increase proportionally, meaning more money coming in to your business and everything moves forward.

As your business grows, you will usually start to outsource some services.

It's natural that, as your customer base grows, you start hiring other companies to delegate some of the services you provide to your customers so that you can concentrate your efforts on other things. It could be, for instance, hiring a courier to deliver products your customers buy on your ecommerce site, or outsourcing your leads and new business development processes.

In any case, somewhere along the road, you have to start relying on external agents to completely fulfill your customers’ demands and many of those external agents are not directly under your control and supervision.

Let me share with you one of those experiences I recently lived which will hopefully allow me to show you two things: one, that there is a moment in which the intervention of third parties within your relationship with customers can become a problem, and the second one being that regardless of this sort of “dependence” you must find a way to keep your business connected at all times with customers and keep control of the relationship.

My wife recently gave our two kids a mobile phone to each one as their summer present. The SIM cards corresponding to these mobile lines were sent to our house by Simyo (the mobile phone agent) through a delivery company, in this case, Zeleris. As they always do, and following their normal procedures, they called my wife to arrange the delivery date and estimated time frame, to which my wife replied that she wouldn’t be at home, therefore I would be the one receiving the package.

When the Zeleris driver arrived to my place, and after having a rough start on the intercom, he finally knocked my door and, with one of those attitudes, handed me over the package. When I had to sign for it, he asked me for my wife’s ID.

"Well, I don’t have it" - I replied.
"What do you mean you don’t have it? I need your wife’s ID"- referring to her on a non-acceptable, personal way.
"Well, I have to say I don’t have it" - I replied then because there was really very little I had to say.
"So what do we do then?" - the driver asked me, in a defiant tone.
"I don’t know, because I don’t have my wife’s ID. For me it’s the same if you take it back and come back tomorrow to deliver the package, and allow me to get my wife’s ID if you need it"- I offered because it was all I could think of at that moment.
And for the “great finale” on the whole incident, he said: "I am the one who doesn’t care" - and handed me over the terminal they use to collect data from the package’s recipient, and I had to do a strong effort to keep myself shut and not to tell him he was being rude to me and that it wasn’t the he should treat a client, so I signed the package off and grabbed it.

After closing the door, I had that strong sense of frustration as I watched myself being treated like that, on such an “I don’t care” way, as if instead of being a paid service, he was doing me a favor.

A few days after the incident, and after the corresponding analysis I came to realize: That man is not the one to blame. For him, I'm really not his customer. For him, I'm nothing but another package he must deliver to meet his daily quota and that’s about it.

When others handle areas of your relationship with customers, your business’ reputation is on their hands.

Neither him nor his company have a business relationship with me. I will not pay them for the delivery but Simyo will. The person he has to report with is Zeleris, the one who pays his payroll, and Zeleris would respond to Simyo if it had happened that I sent the package back, which I didn’t, for instance.

That's the main reason why he doesn’t care at all about what happened (I should say “He doesn’t give a sh.. but I’m not going there), although he should: If I reject the delivery of the package and say “bye, bye” to Simyo, Zeleris’ driver doesn’t care. He does have absolutely nothing to do with my satisfaction as a Simyo customer.

And that's exactly the moment in which this kind of outsourcing can become a risk for your business.

What things could you do to keep this from happening to you?

In such an specific situation as the one I narrated above, I think it would be interesting if Simyo had designed a way to contact me to confirm the SIM cards were delivered properly and that I had no problem with its delivery.

Make sure you have full control over what your customers experiences with your company, at all times.

Had a monitoring mechanism of this type being implemented, and had the people from Zeleris (the outsourced) been aware that their work was being directly monitored by their paying customer (Simyo), the story would have been completely different.

And I'm sure that in many situations like this, monitoring mechanisms can be implemented, so that you can always be sure that your customers are having a positive experience with your company.

Keep in mind that even something as simple as receiving a package is part of the overall experience your customers have with you, and even though it would seem as a minor thing, it doesn’t mean it’s less important.

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