Maintaining a close partnership with a service provider is key to a successful outcome.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Many companies rely on an interwoven web of outsourced services to keep their businesses running—but ensuring successful service delivery can be challenging when the vendor relationship is simply transactional rather than strategic.
According to Leslie Pontello, Chief Operating Officer at bswift, a successful union between a client and vendor begins and ends with partnership. “In a partnership, a service provider is capable of and willing to deeply understand the client’s unique needs and then provide innovative solutions to meet those needs,” she explains.
What differentiates true service partners from vendors?
- Leadership support. Effective partnerships begin with establishing a governance and expectation-setting program that includes leaders a level above the two people who are tasked with maintaining the partnership. This ensures that each party feels supported by their leadership while providing an agreed upon escalation path for any potential challenges that may arise.
- Understanding. True partners know how to ask probing questions to understand their clients’ needs. They come to the table ready to discuss the desired outcomes of an engagement, tailoring their products and solutions to meet those outcomes while remaining open to ongoing feedback.
“Sometimes, clients are unable to clearly identify their goals at the beginning of an engagement, so the onus is on the partner to understand their overarching strategy, learn what’s important to the client in the relationship and focus on those areas while maintaining an ongoing dialogue about expectations,” Pontello says.
Service partners need to understand how their clients measure success—and that requires continual communication. Organizations often have multiple or even conflicting objectives, but a partner can help them identify the strategic anchors for the program, providing a foundation for future decision-making and benchmarking.
- Accountability. The final piece of the puzzle that differentiates vendors from partners is accountability. Service partners work with their clients to outline clear goals and hold each other accountable to those deliverables, making sure to mutually define success, measure performance, and monitor it over time. True service partners should also make accountability an internal focus by holding everyone to a common framework of best practices, documentation, processes, and trainings to ensure consistent and quality client service.
Pontello emphasizes that a continual conversation about goals and metrics is essential to ensuring the client’s satisfaction remains top of mind. “One tool we like to use is a scorecard that is completely subjective,” she says. “In many cases, objective goals can be met, but the client remains dissatisfied. It’s important to also have an ongoing, subjective dialogue in which the provider will review performance on a monthly or quarterly basis to make sure the client is satisfied, and that they are focusing on the right metrics.”
For best results, clients and their partners should meet regularly to review their successes, discuss areas of improvement, and devise a plan to avoid mistakes in the future.
“It’s a joint process,” says Pontello. “It’s important to define the partnership, of which a crucial part is getting the client’s feedback. Do they have the same assessment we do? That’s a key piece because at the end of the day, these discussions are really about the conversation—not only the results—to keep that line of communication open.”
When clients operate in a trusted partnership with their service provider, they can be honest about their needs and deficiencies, granting greater visibility into the company’s challenges. With both organizations invested in the client’s success, this type of engagement allows for more effective collaboration and, ultimately, superior outcomes.