Sunday, November 25, 2007

Pay for Performance Contact Center Consulting

I have always been a firm believer in the old adage that "you get what you pay for", but it is also true that just because you paid a lot for something doesn't always mean you get a good result.

I think that generally products and services are priced based on their value and based on how the markets have valued them in comparison to alternatives available. But there always are charlatans out there who will charged big bucks and deliver little value. The technology and technology services realm has been rife with these occurrences...think vaporware. How many times have we heard how good something is going to be. How often have these future capabilities been presented or implied as being available today. All to often the truth only comes out after the purchase has been made. This experience is widespread enough to have lead to the creation of another adage specific to the technology space, "nobody gets fired for buying IBM". The upshot of this message is clear, the only safe choice is to buy what you know you can trust.

This whole purchasing premise is based on agreeing up front to price based upon a set of expectations and then seeing what you get. Well known and well regarded firms generally deliver what is expected, though this is not always the case. The less well known companies represent risk for the buyer, "what if they can't deliver?", 'what if it doesn't work?". We all avoid risk and clients are no different. Less well known firm and start ups have to overcome the perception that they are asking the customer to 'buy a pig in a poke', the clients' skepticism and natural risk avoidance can lead all to often to 'buying IBM', which is great if you are IBM and not so great if you are the unknown company with a great product or service, but can't demonstrate that without the client agreeing to buy your offering.

So what is a company with a good product or service to do? Well this is a situation that is common in the consulting space where I operate. The Taylor Reach Group, Inc. (TRG) a call and contact center consultancy, may possess a leadership team with hundreds of years of Strategic and Operational Management experience, serve clients organizations that read like a who's who of the corporate world. We may have won awards for the work we do and have offices in three major cities (Toronto Atlanta and Sydney, Australia) and operate globally, but we are certainly not a household name.

I have seen prospective clients elect to go with IBM (or in this case IBM Global), or PwC and other big 5 consulting firms based upon their skepticism and/or to avoid both personal and professional risk. Yet instead of getting a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience they may get a twenty-something year old MBA grad who has completed a six week training program. Now I ask you which approach do you think is more risky?

So the challenge we face is still the same...How do we overcome the skepticism of buying 'a pig a poke' and eliminate the associated risk?

Our approach is to let the client decide. It sounds simple, let the client decide what a project is worth at the end of the task. Rather than agreeing up front to a cost with a set of expectations but no guarantee of the quality of the result we let our clients determine the quality and how much value they believe they received from an engagement of project. Our Pay for Performance Contact Center Consulting model gives the client control over what we get paid. Of course this doesn't eliminate risk it simply transfers the risk from the client to TRG and we have the confidence to know that we can add value and are comfortable giving control over our remuneration to our clients.

So how will this venture work out for us, I can't see the future, but I am confident. I will keep you posted.

The Trouble with Consultants...and Clients

There is an old adage that a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and tells you what time it is. Some times this is truer than we would like it to be.

The reasons for an organization to employ a consultant are many and include:
1-Need for specialized knowledge not available within the organization,
2-Desire to have a 'fresh set of eyes' look at and examine the business or the contact center,
3-The need for additional 'bandwidth' to complete a task or project,

In the first instance above the organization will learn from the process and if the consultant provides effective knowledge transfer then the company will have developed a new capability and competency.

In the second scenario the expectation is that the company "can't see the forest for the trees" and that they are too close and too biased, based on history, experience and how thing have always been done, to see alternatives. The consultant can facilitate a new view of the issues and present new alternatives not previously identifed by the organization. This process can remove the 'blinders' from the organization and create a new method for viewing issues, challenges and opportunities.

It is in the third scenario that we can see the 'borrowed watch' come into play. This is a situation where the organization has the knowledge and skills to complete a task, but not the 'bandwidth' in people or resources to get the job done. In this situation the consultant has the highest degree of risk as the client will often have an expectation of the outcome, based upon their ability to have completed the project if they had the time. The client will often project this outcome to the consultant. The less ethical consultants out there might just set about to develop evidence to prove the clients desired outcome rather than complete the work required to meet the original mandate. While it is obvious to me that the only option is to complete the project without bias, this can pose numerous problems. Clients who beleive they could complete the project, may in fact lack some of the knowledge, skills or experience to actually do so. And when they have a stated expectation of the result it may be very difficult to convince that another result is possible or desireable, let alone superior. The meeting where the consultant finds a different result can be very difficult, yet can prove to be very rewarding when we suceed in demonstrating the superiority of an unexpected result and sucuring the clients buy in and support for this new vision.