We talk a lot about the need to align your corporate culture with your outsourcer’s, but we know it’s a lot easier to say than it is to do – after all, it’s not a particularly quantifiable element. And it’s not totally subjective, either. In the same way that there are specific personality types – and recommended “matches” between those types (New biz idea … Tinder for Outsourcing. BRB gotta develop an app…) – there are key factors that define a company’s culture and how well they would align with a partner company. Spoiler: It’s not a slide in the lobby or a barista in the lunchroom that defines culture.
That said, in our books, understanding another company’s culture is still largely experiential. You can ask all the right questions in the contact center RFP and still struggle to understand how their culture might or might not align with your own. That’s why, if time and budget allow, we always recommend a site visit before you go to RFP (read our Guide to On-Site Contact Center Visits here).
Once you’re on site, we recommend keeping these key elements in mind:
Nestlé lists integrity, honesty, respect, fair dealing, and full compliance with the law as their corporate values. Compare and contrast that with Netflix which lists judgement, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, inclusion, courage, and passion as their core values. Those two companies are probably going to be looking for different things in an outsourced partner – and they probably have very different approaches to their working relationships with strategic partners. Different doesn’t mean better or worse – it’s just different and alignment is key.
It is certainly possible to get a sense of an organization’s vision and values through their website, and social presence. But at the end of the day, it’s only as insightful as looking through someone’s profile on *that* dating app to get a sense of their personality. It’s easy to see glaringly obvious incompatibilities, but where there might be compatibility, that in-person first date is crucial. That’s where you find out how their identity and temperament play out in real life – and whether your personalities actually click.
Getting on-site with a potential partner will reveal how their communicated vision and values manifest in real life. (Pro tip: visit the location where your program will be staffed. A field trip to the production facility is more relevant to you than a trip to head office – assuming those are two different places.) The true corporate culture will be apparent in their training programs and benefits packages, their physical environment, their performance management processes (including who and how they promote) and career paths. Frankly, it will be apparent in the small details. Pay attention to the coffee, the washrooms, and the way they manage waste in their lunch rooms – those are the areas that tell you how committed a potential partner is to being good stewards of the environment and how committed they are to diversity if those are important to your own values. Additionally, their employees – from the VPs to the frontline agents – should be able to articulate those vision and values and understand the impact of their own role in this bigger picture.
At the heart of a company’s culture is a leadership team who shapes – intentionally or not – that culture. It’s their values, behaviors, personality types, attitudes, and management and communication styles that mold a company. So being able to trust the leaders of a potential partner is critical in achieving cultural alignment. And in the contact center especially this is even more important, because you also need to trust these leaders and the culture they’ve built with your brand and your customers.
When you interact with those same leaders, do you get a sense that they’re seeking a mutually beneficial relationship? How do they demonstrate their integrity and transparency? You can get to the heart of that by asking tough questions face to face: tell me about a time you lost a client that you shouldn’t have lost? What did you learn? How did that change your business? Tell me what you’re not good at? How does that impact your clients? You can ask these questions in an RFP, but you won’t see the immediate reaction they generate, and you won’t get the “on the spot” answer, you’ll get carefully crafted, well-thought-out, risk-mitigating answers. Sitting across a boardroom table as your potential partner talks about sensitive topics will help you assess the level of transparency they are willing to demonstrate, which probably will inform the level of trust you would feel with them.
Beyond determining where a potential partner’s leadership team falls on your transparency-o-meter, there is the simple question of what they would be like to work with. How do they communicate and collaborate with each other? With their frontline employees? Do they seem to genuinely like each other? Do they listen to each other? Are questions and ideas welcomed or shut down? Can they delegate and collaborate without micromanaging or controlling? Can you see yourself rolling up your sleeves and working together, if not on the daily, at least at quarterly business reviews for the next three to five years?
Communication is one of the simplest yet most critical points of alignment in a strategic partnership. And it’s fairly straightforward to measure, at least in the first phase of your relationship, pre-contract. How responsive is the partner company in your initial interaction? Is leadership involved in the communication process early on in the process? Is there timely and relevant follow up to every question you have, whether via email or phone? Do you feel comfortable calling them unexpectedly for answers to last-minute questions? Are they respectful of your time and limits? (One of our rules is: no emailing our prospects when we know they are on holiday.) In other words, the right partner is not only reliable in their communication – they’re also sensitive to your needs, timeline, and communication style.
While this initial assessment is easy enough, it’s important to consider the “honeymoon effect.” While most partners are clearly committed to regular communication throughout the sales cycle and onboarding process, there’s always the risk that it falls off the radar once you’re in the swing of things. Protecting your relationship against this before you even sign on will take some careful observation and questioning. How often are reviews or calibration calls? Who’s involved in those conversations? How much access will you have to senior management once you have an assigned account manager?
Another indication that future communication will remain strong and effective is the quality of your interactions. How prone are your conversations to misunderstandings? Is there clarity and direction to every communication? If there are miscommunications, do they step into problem-solving mode to ensure everyone’s on the same page? How do tension and conflict get resolved? Answering these questions now will help you mitigate against future miscommunication – and your partner should be more than willing to achieve that same goal.
At the end of the day, ensuring a cultural fit between your company and your outsourcer is an important step towards ensuring success. Risks will be mitigated, costs reduced, and opportunities seized when there is a common vision, maintained trust, and open communication. And when these things happen, it’s much more likely that your customer care solution is going to drive the outcomes your brand is built on.
We’d love to chat with you more about this topic. Got 15 minutes? Let’s get something on the calendar – just click here.