Renewing Benefits Outsourcing Contracts

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Next Contract Renegotiation

by Robert Crow

With many first-generation total benefits and HR outsourcing contracts up for renewal in the next 12 months, employers may be losing money if they arent taking advantage of the changes taking place in the market. Based on our experiences at Watson Wyatt, we have found that one way to improve efficiencies is to drive more employee benefits transactions to the Web. Another tool that employers now have in their favor (that they may not have had several years ago) is several years of data that allow them to renegotiate contract terms based on actual employee usage patterns and customer service trends.

Research shows that many of the companies who first signed HRO contracts five to seven years ago are likely to renew their deals. However, doing so without significant renegotiation could be a serious financial mistake. Many early-stage HRO adopters experienced higher than expected outsourcing costs because of certain elements in their original contracts. Locking in long terms, for example, prevented employers from negotiating lower rates after just a few years. Not including reasonable transition fees in the event the employers population size changed dramatically, also proved to be to employers detriment.

Nowadays, employers have more leverage and information than when they negotiated their first contracts, and they should capitalize on this opportunity to reduce costs and improve customer service. Companies are in a much stronger position due to the consolidation occurring among multiple outsourcing service providers and recent research on usage trends, companies have more leverage in renegotiating contracts.

This makes it a great time for organizations to negotiate their next outsourcing contracts. But lowering costs and improving service quality isnt automatic. Companies must be proactive in their contract renewals to get the most competitive deal.

NEGOTIATING KNOW HOW: FOUR FACTORS TO SUCCESS

SO HOW DO YOU GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR NEXT CONTRACT NEGOTIATION? BEFORE YOU RE-SIGN ON THE DOTTED LINE, TRY THESE TIPS.

1) Focus on service needs.

With advances in technology and growing employee comfort with Web-based transactions, many of the service provisions necessary five years ago may no longer be needed. Because more workers use the Web to conduct benefits-related transactions, this means fewer employees are calling outsourcers customer service call centers than in the past, lowering the vendors staffing requirements and costs. Companies should capture these types of shifts and potential savings during contract renewal negotiations.

2) Use acquired data.

Original outsourcing contracts were negotiated without much information on usage levels and other factors. Now, after years of data collection, companies have real numbers at their fingertips to help them negotiate contracts that closely align with their needs. By looking at measures such as call volume, content, and call resolution rates over a period of time (12-24 months), companies can better predict future service center usage for leveraging in the negotiations.

3) Solicit stakeholder input.

Input from employees, benefits staff, and other key stakeholders can help companies get a better perspective of actual service quality and cost savings and translate this knowledge into action. If, for example, employees report frustration with long wait times during service-center calls, the new contract should modify existing performance guarantees to address the changing requirements.

4) Consider shorter contract lengths.

By negotiating shorter contracts or contracts that allow for midterm renegotiation, companies can obtain the flexibility they need to update their contract terms to reflect the changing environment. Locking into a long-term contract may not provide the best deal because of reductions in various service charges. Its important for companies to have the option to adjust their outsourcing strategies to use new technologies, incorporate new groups of workers added through mergers or acquisitions, and capture any benefits and savings associated with further consolidation within the outsourcing industry.We have seen a continued reduction in various service charges over the last six years. Because we expect this trend to continue, locking into a long-term contract may not provide the best deal.

Posted November 10, 2004 in Benefitsin Engaged Workforce

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