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More than a Logo

More than a Logo | Human Resource Executive Online Laurie Barnes is a principal for workforce communication and change in the Chicago office of Mercer. Andrew R. McIlvaine, an HRE senior editor, spoke to her recently about what HR leaders need to know in order to maintain their organization's corporate brand during a major outsourcing initiative.

Monday, March 16, 2009
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What do HR leaders need to keep in mind when considering whether or not a prospective outsourcing vendor will exercise proper stewardship of their organization's brand?

If the vendor doesn't ask HR what their "brand promise" is, that should be a red flag. A brand promise goes way beyond making sure your logo is on their Web site and printed materials. It's more about what sort of "customer experience" employees of your organization have come to expect and how can that be carried over to the vendor in terms of customer service, how they respond to phone queries and so on.

What are some potential indicators of whether or not an outsourcing firm would be a good steward of the corporate brand?

It often comes through in the contracting discussion, when they should be asking things like, "What are we going to be held accountable to do?" "What is special about your organization?"

Outsourcers are in the business of repeatability -- part of the reason this service or business exists is that it's repeatable activity or transactions, so the more consistently the outsourcer is able to deliver a service and the easier it is to repeat that service across different clients, then the more efficiently and effectively the outsourcer can deliver that service.

That's essentially what outsourcing clients are buying -- the outsourcer's ability to do a process more efficiently and effectively than they can -- so with that in mind, there's a constant balance between what makes the outsourcing vendor effective and efficient, and the flexibility that can be provided for each client.

Company A and Company B might have totally different ways of responding to employee needs -- one company might prefer that employees be directed to a Web site to get more information, while the other might insist that, if employees want information given to them via the phone, then do it -- and if the vendor tried to accommodate each of them thoroughly, then it would no longer be efficient.

So, it's a constant balancing act and there are certain things the vendor just won't be able to accommodate.

What are the risks employers face when an outsourcer doesn't do a good job of maintaining the corporate brand?

What gets risked is that it becomes all too obvious to employees that they are in fact working with a third party.

We've all had those experiences with outsourced customer service, when it becomes blindingly obvious you're working with a third party instead of the organization you bought the goods or services from. I think it leads to increased frustration.

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Part of the reason organizations outsource these activities is to save money and if employees aren't comfortable going to that resource, then the real cost savings or strategy model that led you to outsource in the first place is at risk because employees are still going to need these questions answered.

So really, the ROI behind outsourcing becomes diminished.

An employee who has a bad experience with an outsourcing firm will often complain to their co-workers, which can lead to a big rumor mill. All it takes is one or two bad experiences, especially with employees who are big internal influencers.

Even though organizations that outsource are often very large, they could have a plant in some small town with only 250 employees who all know each other, and if just a couple of them have a bad experience with the outsourcing firm, then all the other employees will be much less likely to use it.

What can HR do to ensure its outsourcing vendor is properly protecting the brand?

The vendors should be collecting information on their customers' experiences, typically collected via online surveys. Employers should also hold focus groups with employees about their experiences and in general, encourage feedback from employees, making sure they have an open door for two-way communication.

It comes down to making sure that you, as the employer, and the vendor are asking questions and then acting on the feedback.

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