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Develop your outsourced employees

It is a phenomenon all around us. At home, we outsource some of our routine tasks to service providers – be it cleaning floors, dusting furniture, washing clothes, cleaning utensils, taking care of the sick and the elderly, cleaning cars or setting up the mis-en-place for cooking meals. India is blessed in the outsourced services space. Our abundant population provides us the luxury of outsourcing the non core, so that we can focus on the core of managing the home while getting specialized support for many of the services so mentioned.

How do we ensure that the quality provided by each of these service providers is up to our expectation? A lot of briefing, on the job coaching and instructing, continuous assessment of quality of service and concurrent feedback on performance accompanied with recommendations for corrective action is the key to make these services effective. Absence or weakness in any of these training measures reduces service quality and ultimately the effectiveness. Some perfectionists would insist that they need to redo the work once the service provider has completed the assignment thereby labeling the outsourcing as a waste.

Expand the canvas – Take the housing societies that many of us live in – security and safety, power and water supply management, hygiene, pest control and upkeep and a host of services are engaged for this mini organization in each urban housing society. While all these services are outsourced, the quality of services rendered is all across the spectrum and very often unrelated to the brand of the manpower supply agency. What is clear is that the profile of the employees of such service providers in large and small agencies is more or less similar. The difference – the training and hand holding that the service provider provides to start with and to a large extent, the on the job training that the clients provide to such service providers is more often than not the key difference.

We see similar outsourced services in larger organizations and commercial establishments ranging from Security, Housekeeping, Facility Management, Tea Boy and Cafeteria services, Travel and Ticketing services and a host of such services customized to the need of each organization. Here too we see the same trend. The quality of service provided is directly proportional to the quality of talent which again directly relates to the level of training that such service providers are provided both at the client end and by the service provider themselves. At the macro industry and society level, you see this problem magnified at call centers, DSA’s, BPO’s, specialized service providers and in the high end knowledge spaces the National and Global Knowledge Process Outsourcing in fields such as technology, finance and many others.

The end result is there for all of us to see. Poor service from call centers and help lines of professional organizations, lax in security and safety processes in sensitive areas, poor hygiene and lack of processes in health care, food processing and many related fields, poor services from Banks or Telecom Service DSA’s and many more. This list is ever growing.

Clearly, all is not well with the outsourcing phenomenon in our nation. While we are sensitized to this need for collaborative working and specialized development at the micro levels at home and take corrective action quickly, we do not have processes to ensure that this issue directly relating to service quality is managed as a key outcome. Clearly, this is a strategic problem which needs immediate attention. I am not questioning the premise of outsourcing in the first place. The outsourcing strategy clearly has its merits and needs to be pursued on priority. However, the development of such service providers cannot be left to chance or some clause in the outsourced contract which lacks teeth.

We can take a leaf out of the high end KPO businesses wherein IT/ITES / Finance firms provide value added services to top notch clients and brands across the world. The level of involvement of the client in the development of such people is directly proportional to the effectiveness and growth of such services. In a leading Financial KPO, I have come across clients who have a strong say in sourcing such talent, their compensation and incentives, their development – hard domain skills, soft people skills and also play a role in the reading habits of such employees. Tools are made available to such employees to read crunched up versions of international newspapers and journals on a daily basis, teleconversations and web enabled development programmes are key inputs for the growth of such initiatives. The client organizations then in conjunction with the service provider design an efficiency dashboard and regularly monitor the performance of the service provider. This is the key to a win win relationship where the client, service providing organization and the employee wins. There clearly are no short cuts to this process. Any short cut has a price to pay in terms of efficiency and service quality

We clearly see the contradictions and discontinuities to this win-win value chain. As competition intensifies, cost of services is being cut to bare bone leaving no room for developmental initiatives from the service provider. The compensation provided is not incentive enough to encourage loyalty and therefore one sees major attrition. This in turn leads to weaknesses in development initiatives and the quality of service suffers.

Organizations and individuals need to understand that this macro issue can only be addressed when all the stakeholders commit to service quality at reasonable costs. The absence of this thinking would lead to customer dissatisfaction and market erosion. More than 50% of India GDP comes from the services sector. If we do not address the service quality issue in all walks of our life, the prosperity of our nation and all service beneficiaries is at risk and we would be unable to avoid a services led recession.