Quick, painless and easy LPO: 8 facets of client onboarding
I am often asked, in my consulting practice, about the most challenging offshoring projects I have experienced – the most problematic ones and the actions I undertook, the methodologies I employed to drive them to eventual success. While this is a sound line of questioning (after all, the abnormal “how not to outsource” is just as informative as a regular “how to”), it sometimes forgets a considerable chunk of outsourcing projects that do proceed relatively smoothly. After all the lessons learned from the most difficult offshoring transitions, one is eventually bound to start a streak of engagements that are unexciting in a good way and go largely according to plan, right?
I experienced one such project (by no means the first or the last) in the middle of my outsourcing career. It was the first attorney-level (hence the first true-blue) Legal Process Outsourcing project of the BPO provider I was with. The client, a global leader in publishing legal content and practice-management systems for the legal industry, was creating and launching a new online database of US litigation documents, and invited the provider to participate in a limited-FTE pilot to prove to the client’s executive management the feasibility of offshoring such high-level legal document research tasks. From a successful pilot, this project would eventually become the provider’s largest-revenue and highest-skill programme and the client’s most successful product at the time (2006 to 2009).
Admittedly, the ramp-up was not without its difficulties, but very few to none of them were surprising or beyond the norm.
- Slow rate of hiring attorney FTEs. LPO was relatively new to the Philippine talent market at the time, so the legal human capital were either unaware or wary of the job opportunity. The provider’s recruitment team was also new to sourcing this type of talent, hence the lower turnout of candidates for this programme versus other positions in the company.
- Attorneys unwilling to go full-time. Again, since LPO was so nascent, the talent pool saw this job opportunity merely as a part-time or supplemental-income arrangement. When we started, one person hired was equivalent to, at best, half an FTE’s commitment.
- Learning curve. While Philippine attorneys’ training is based on the US legal system, LPO work required BPO skills and traits that they did not naturally possess: technical- and web-savviness, multitasking, productivity-orientation, brevity, logging and tracking work output, and a host of other BPO-centric traits. In addition, the project involved a new online product (yet to be launched by anyone in the market) and a new process (more than document conversion, this was document research), further cramping the knowledge acquisition.
Getting the Client On Board
I had the fortunate role of managing the transition, client services, and business development for this account. I struggle with the nomenclature of my specific experiences in this project. A few of them are sequential steps in client onboarding. Some of them are principles in client-servicing. Others are duties of anyone in client services. But I believe they can’t be divorced from one another.
Facet 1: Quarterly Business Review + Business Development
Visiting the client onsite in the Midwest during one of my quarterly business reviews even prior to conceiving the pilot, the provider’s President and I had the opportunity to float the idea of the provider ramping up attorney-level FTEs for the client’s increasingly demanding content needs. See, QBRs are not only for reporting performance and responding to (defending against) project issues. They are also venues to have meaningful conversations with clients, learn about their strategic initiatives, and spot opportunities to genuinely help, along the way gaining additional scope or business and deepening the client-provider relationship.
Facet 2: Empathy, Sensitivity, Opportunity
Sensing the client’s warm reception to the idea and seeing the inherent immense opportunity, we took the client’s interested response as a major outcome of the QBR for subsequent follow-up. Without effective listening and empathy, we would have missed the signs of the warm reception amidst the numerous project KPIs and issues being tackled during the onsite visit.
Facet 3: Follow Through
Upon arrival back to the provider’s headquarters in Manila, my Operations colleagues and I began a series of follow-up actions that included a deeper scoping of the talent market, firmer ramp-up estimates, and calls and emails to the client signifying the seriousness of both parties to the opportunity. After all, opportunities turn into real business only if one acts on them and follows through.
Facet 4: Account Management
Needless to say, I was anointed to be the primary contact for the client during the pilot and, upon turnover to Operations during steady state, I remained the provider-side point-of-contact (POC) in key conversations about pricing, scope, SLAs, escalations, and project reviews. Ease of communication, decision-making, and seamlessness in vendor-side management personalities are the little things that count for a lot in client onboarding for a new project.
Facet 5: Expectation Management
Right from the start of the pilot, we provided and continuously communicated to the client a conservative and doable estimate of speed in hiring attorney FTEs and their initial production performance (versus SLAs and versus quality standards). Obviously, these estimates were designed to expect an improving trend over time.
Facet 6: Ramp-Up
Together with a senior partner in Operations, I sourced, interviewed, tested, drafted employment contracts for, and hired attorneys and attorneys-in-review (pre-bar law graduates) for the pilot. Eventually, once we identified and ironed out the kinks in the selection and hiring, we trained the rest of Operations management and Recruitment and fully transitioned this process.
Facet 7: Communicating Nimble, Creative Solutions
My partners and I designed and built a production team with a hybrid talent pool of attorneys, pre-bar law graduates, and non-attorney legal document analysts. This would expedite FTE ramp-up and address some of the learning curve issues (non-attorneys bring BPO-savvy, attorneys bring domain experience), at minimal risk (team still 100% well-versed in legal documents). I directly communicated this solution to the client, branded the three talent types carefully, proposed a three-tiered pricing scheme, and sold the customer to its advantages and sound risk management.
Facet 8: Steady State, Continuous Sensitivity, Short-Interval Reviews
For every weekly production delivery during the pilot, I – along with other senior managers – was copied on the submission, paid close attention to every client feedback (positive, neutral, negative), led review meetings with the production team, documented process improvements and estimated quality impacts, circled back with the customer, monitored performance over time, and repeated this entire cycle until steady state. Needless to say, that relentless sensitivity to every client feedback during the pilot – no matter the tone, whether cheerful or frustrated – was key to bringing the program to steady state faster.
Though Client Services is a multi-faceted, multi-disciplinary function in outsourcing, every offshoring provider still aims for quick, painless, and easy client onboarding. With proper planning, sound methodology, some practice, and a dash of art, it can be achieved.
About the Author
Jay Manahan is a Business Development and Program Management Consultant and Executive for offshore BPO and shared services engagements, with 15+ years of experience in outsourcing, consulting, IT, and F&A back office. He is currently representing providers of call centre services, IT helpdesk, document management, and learning content development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org