How to Future-Proof Your Technical Support Contracts
July 24, 2014
July 24, 2014
It’s impossible to know what business needs might arise in six months, let alone two years from now. Yet the multi-year contracts that are typical of many technical support vendors don’t often account for what you might need down the line. Will your current support services vendor be capable of providing what you need, when you need it as your business encounters the inevitable cycles of change? More importantly, will the terms of your contract help you or hinder you if you need to change courses quickly?
Negotiating a flexible, future-minded contract is essential when dealing with technical services vendors. Whether you are actively evaluating new vendors or just looking to strengthen an existing relationship, there’s no better time than now to understand (and correct, if necessary) how your technical support partners will accommodate business needs that arise after the deal is inked.
You know better than anyone: your business is anything but predictable, and that unpredictability definitely impacts the support services you will need. Consider just a few common occurrences that can trigger the need to alter your outsourced technical support strategy:
Second, ask for examples where the vendor has had to adapt to major business changes and how they were handled. Confirm if the client is still doing business with the vendor. Ask for a reference call with a client who has experienced the vendor’s change management approach, and walk away from vendors who can’t or won’t provide satisfactory answers.
Third, look for vendors who can demonstrate agility and offer the depth and breadth of professional services you may need to tap into. No amount of contract flexibility can overcome a lack of proficiency or inability to scale on the part of your vendor.
What happens when something fails? Nothing encapsulates unplanned business change more than outages and disasters, yet how they are handled is commonly left untouched at the negotiating table. Don’t make the same mistake.
Let’s say a situation that arises that prevents your technical support vendor from being able to conduct daily business operations. This could be on your side (a system or service outage that leaves your support center cut off from tools or analytics they need to serve your customers) or theirs (a facilities outage that impacts the building where your technical support services are housed). What is the protocol? Is it clear and contractually bound?
Often, you won’t know until it happens — and by then, it’s too late. Several true accounts have circulated of companies being left stranded by subpar technical support services companies that have suffered long term, unrecoverable outages. Talk about high transaction costs!
A first-class vendor will provide you with a formal plan for business continuity and disaster recovery that accounts for unplanned events and alerts you to possible interruptions, not just ongoing ones.
The plan should account for temporary, short term outages (such as voice and data system connectivity) and longer term or unrecoverable outages like natural disasters, and provide a comprehensive outline of everything from identifying and notifying you of situations that may impact operations before they happen, through situation containment, recovery, and post-mortem reporting.
Here’s an imperative: change management can and should be negotiated into your contract. Any vendor truly committed to providing value-added service to you should be willing to formally define a process by which you can raise new needs and work together to reach a mutually beneficial outcome.
Changing needs can mean any number of things, as we discussed above. It could be as simple as a burst in volume that exceeds your original forecasts, or as big as the need to abandon support around an existing product line and retrain and redeploy a large volume of support resources to a new multi-channel line of business. The important thing is to build terms into the contract that allow for elasticity, and the ability to renegotiate over time at critical junctures of your business, to keep your cost to serve low and get the maximum transaction value.
Just as it’s become standard practice to build technical SLA’s and KPI’s into vendor contracts, you should also build in business goals and measurements around responsiveness to change. A strong vendor expects and prepares for the natural cycles of a dynamic business environment, and will work with you to write a deal that allows you to work together in real time (not contract cycles) as your needs arise.
Vendors unwilling to ink a deal that looks after your changing business needs are signaling to you that they won’t be able to scale, adapt, or support you under anything other than meticulously controlled circumstances.
By starting out each technical services vendor relationship with the expectation of change and cooperation — and reinforcing your expectations through prudent negotiation and flexible terms — you’ll be well situated to meet any business requirements that come your way. If your current terms or working relationship lacks the wiggle room and protections we’ve outlined and you now know are essential, consider looking around. After all, nothing may force your vendor’s hand better than knowing your business is at stake.