Customer satisfaction as the key quality parameter of outsourcing project
Vladimír Příbramský, PMP, Chief Executive Officer, Alcatel Czech
Our experience proves that during the implementation of outsourcing projects, we have to pay close attention to both achievement of stated service level agreement (SLA), and the satisfaction level of end-users. The condition for success of such projects is the involvement of end-users from the project's beginning.
The recommendations described below are based on the years-long experience from the implementation of the desk top management outsourcing projects, i.e. the administration of the end-user IT equipment (PCs, notebooks, printers, scanners, handhelds, etc.) in the middle-sized and large companies where a legal agreement exists between the company and the outsourcing provider.
The end-users of IT equipment direct all their requirements, related to the equipment functionality, to the central helpdesk of the outsourcer. Then the requirements are assessed and solved either by phone, by the remote access to the end station, or the technician solves the request on-site with the end-user. The requirements are recorded to the central database including the information about the time when they were logged, and the means and the time of their solution.
All conclusions and recommendations of this paper can also be applied to projects of so called comprehensive outsourcing, if we take into account the specific characteristics of such projects.
Traditional outsourcing service metrics
When we assess the quality of outsourcing services of desktop management, we usually use the traditional metrics called SLA. The users are grouped by the significance, and, more specifically, by the urgency by which their requirements must be solved. Moreover, a specific level of support corresponds with each of these groups or categories. This means a specific response time, solution time or an obligation to provide a substitute, if the equipment is not repaired in the specified time. It is recommended to evaluate, for example on a monthly basis, what percentage of incidents was solved in the defined deadlines. A simple graph, tracking this percentage during a certain period, can clearly depict the trend of service fulfillment according to these so called “hard metrics.”
We can come across a situation, when the end-user satisfaction and, therefore, the satisfaction with the outsourcing services are low, despite SLA fulfillment. In this case, it is necessary to identify the causes of the situation and to apply the tools to identify the causes of (dis)satisfaction of end-users.
It is necessary to distinguish between customer and end-user. The Customer is the project sponsor and the owner of the strategic objective to move from in-house support to outsourcing and who usually manages the outsourcing provider. The Customer may have slightly different satisfaction criteria, e.g. the decrease of service cost or achievement of SLA metric. The end-user is generally not motivated by the cost cut, but is concerned about the quickest and the most quality administration of the equipment.
Therefore, it is important to:
- Inform all end-users about the strategic objective (shift to outsourcing);
- Consider the requirements and needs of these workers, including VIP and business critical users, during the establishment of the user groups;
- Inform each end-user about the category, where the user belongs, and what level of support can be expected. We can be done perfectly via e-mail with the link to the Intranet site containing all the relevant information (metrics, categories, and the scope of provided services) which, of course, must be regularly updated.
- Give users a possibility to comment the level of services provided (to express both their satisfaction and dissatisfaction). We may ensure this, for example, by:
- Simple evaluation, which is a part of the form, where the user confirms the activities completed by the technician. For instance, the form may include the 3-point scale where the user can mark their level of satisfaction with the work of the technician, with the performance results, and add brief comments.
- Submission of the complaint or praise through the form on the intranet.
- Research user satisfaction (either random statistical sample, or the selection from a key category, e.g. VIP) in the form of mail survey or interview (in person or by phone).
We have to evaluate all inputs gained this way. Sometimes, it is necessary to focus on very details to identify the right cause of problems and to find the corrections. For instance, we may identify an area where some technicians need to improve their knowledge or, on the contrary, we may identify the unreasonable customer expectation regarding their level of support. In some cases, it may be caused by a human error, in others it is the error in the support system. This way, we may identify specific issues, e.g. the need for the competence center for certain key application.
The cooperation of the quality specialist with the project and operation team proved to be useful for processing and assessment of these worthy inputs because one can evaluate all the inputs as an “independent judge,” recommend the appropriate corrections and track and report the ongoing user satisfaction trend to the project manager. Then the decision about the implementation of stated recommendations is the responsibility of the project team.
This monthly quality status report may include, for instance:
- The total amount of verified inputs (i.e. complains, work orders with the low degree of customer satisfaction). The maximum limits should be stated and continually tracked for comparison with the previous periods;
- The distribution of the negative evaluations according to the locality where the service was provided;
- The frequencies of the chosen categories of the complaint causes (human error, insufficient competence of the technician, the requirement above the scope of the service, etc.)
- The proposal of the recommendations for the process or system changes.
In every case it is necessary to follow the rule of “closing of the loop,” which means the result of response to every signed complaint and recommendation for improvement must be communicated to the initiator. The previously mentioned quality specialist may have this role.
- Listen to the opinions and information of the technicians, who provide the service, and to the team who manages its implementation and operation. This method is especially useful in combination with the customer feedback during the times of dissatisfaction with the total service level, although the SLA can be fulfilled quite well.
In that case, the so-called KJ method (named by its author Kawakita Jiro, sometimes also called LP method – language processing) may be effectively applied. Using this method we collect the input from participants in an approximately 2-3 hour brainstorming session. Based on this input we can identify the key points and areas, where the implementation of change, i.e. improvement, is necessary.
The scope of KJ method includes 4 aspects:
- Problem solving method
- Qualitative data formulation and analysis tools
- New type of field research concept and method
- Teamwork concepts for creativity
The main steps of the method are as follows:
- Agree on the topic (make a careful consideration of team agreement on the appropriate topics to be considered)
- Write and understand the data (each team member writes down several facts, ideas, and hints about the theme)
Figure 1 Agree on topic and write data
- Group similar data (team works together to group the facts that are similar to each other)
- Title groups
Figure 2 Group similar data and title groups
- Lay out groups and show relationships and hierarchy among groups
Figure 3 Show relationships among groups
- Vote on the most important and most influential low level issues and draw conclusion. The team decides what next steps are appropriate.
Subsequently, we may successfully use the fishbone diagram for the determination of the most influencing issues. A Fishbone diagram is a useful tool in brainstorming, examining processes, and planning activities which illustrates how different causes and sub-causes create and influence problems or effects. The process of constructing a cause-and-effect diagram helps stimulate thinking about an issue, helps organize thoughts into a rational whole, and generates discussion. Figure 4 documents the level of understanding about an issue and provides a framework from which to begin solving them.
Figure 4 Example of Fishbone diagram
During the outsourcing transition period and even after its end, i.e. in the operational period of outsourcing service, the ways mentioned above can provide input for service improvements and keeping the high level of customer and end-user satisfaction. The close cooperation of the project team and quality specialists is one of the key factors for success of such improvement process.