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Stratford-Upon-Avon, Warwickshire, United Kingdom, 2007/05/22 - In recent years there has been a huge shift in the way that clients outsource their call centre activity. 10 years ago, managing the relationship with the outsourced vendor was often simply a part of someone else’s role in marketing or sales.
In the modern competitive world of outsourcing, where client demands are ever-increasing, a new specialism has arisen in terms of managing outsourced partners. Outsourcing is now very much a strategic decision based on allowing the client to focus on its core competencies. With the shift away from purely transactional based BPO, it’s now increasingly important that the outsourced partner functions as an extension to the client rather than at arm’s length.
The size and volume of projects increased in the early 1990’s and the late 1990’s saw the first consultancies sprouting up to assist in managing outsourced vendors. Some of these consultancies were established by veterans of call centre outsourcing and some were part of larger consultancies offering general outsourcing support. With the explosion in offshoring in the early part of this decade, some consultancies set up to meet this requirement.
During the last few years, we have seen many companies adopting a strategy to keep the outsourcer management expertise in house. Many of the UK’s larger companies now have entire teams dedicated to managing outsourced call-centres. Those with larger operations will often have 1 person who will work full-time on one site and some have developed an entire support structure to manage their vendors. At callcentrepeople.com, we have seen triple digit growth in the demand for vendor managers so far in 2007.
Why The Trend?
Sceptics might say that clients are increasingly distrustful of their outsourced provider(s). However, this doesn’t paint the whole picture. If we are to read the press, British consumers have become increasingly turned-off by call-centres whether at home or offshore. The fact is that British consumers are now more demanding than at any time in history and companies have had to respond to this by ensuring that their outsourced call centres have all the tools to meet these needs.
Many clients realise that to have an outsourced vendor who is best in class, they need to be a best in class client. The move is away from a vendor-client relationship to one where they are true partners working towards a common aim. With the increased competition in the outsourced market in the late 1990’s, many clients increasingly viewed call centre services as a commodity. Forward thinking companies now dismiss this viewpoint and the vendor manager role is a part of this.
What Does The Role Do?
Being a best-in-class client means having a win-win contractual agreement, an understanding of the vendor’s boundaries and capabilities and a clear understanding of each side’s responsibilities. It is the one of the key objectives of the vendor manager roles to ensure that being a best-in-class client is a reality. This role is often the “missing link” between the client and the provider. For an outsourcing relationship to work, communication between the parties must be first rate. This role often works with internal departments at the client side to ensure this information is delivered.
The role varies from company to company. At the higher end, some vendor managers will engage in vendor selection and contract negotiation. We are seeing an increasing trend towards vendor managers being based at 1 or 2 vendor locations and can be involved directly in the management of call centre agents. Some roles become an auditing role where their input is simply to check that KPI’s are being met and the client standards are adhered to. The common myth about the role is that it mainly consists of lots of golf and expensive lunches. The role usually involves long hours and extensive travel especially for those involved in offshoring.
Who does it?
We are seeing an increasing demand from candidates who are working in the outsourced sector to move client-side. This is no surprise given that this has happened in other service based industries such as p.r., recruitment and advertising. Those who go from an outsourced agency to working as a vendor manager have typically worked as an Account Director although we have had some senior operations people take up these roles.
In fact, many of the people working as vendor managers are not from an outsourcing background. They have simply evolved into the role. However, we are seeing an increasing number of clients look for people who have worked on the vendor side. As one of our clients recently told me “The gamekeeper always knows where the pheasants are”. People with no experience on the vendor side typically have different priorities, skill-sets and knowledge to those who have worked exclusively for outsourcers. Those clients who want an “outsourcing expert” typically choose someone who has worked at multiple outsourcers or in an outsourcing consultancy. Those clients seeking specific industry or company knowledge choose either an experienced vendor manager or select someone internally or from a competitor.
Many of our assignments to date for vendor managers have been from companies who have a specific problem with a vendor. However, we are increasingly witnessing clients who see having dedicated vendor managers from the outset to be proactive rather than reactive.
For those people considering a career in vendor management, you need to be aware of the skills and experience required. The ideal candidate would often be someone who has worked on both the client and vendor side for a few different companies. They also need to be resilient. Any supplier manager in any industry will often tell you that trying to get a third party company to deliver can often be more of a challenge that doing the same thing internally. Those people looking to move from the vendor side to the client side often experience cultural differences that they had not been aware of. Call centre outsourcing companies tend to have lean management structures and hence decision making and information flows are straight-forward. However, in larger companies on the client side, the reverse can often be different.