Every big corporation manages multiple shared services. Shared services are often a bit mysterious to a PMO, and improvement projects are sometimes overly complex. It is difficult enough to provide a service that can keep a single client happy, a shared service has more variables to juggle and more chances to make mistakes that anger clients. While there is no magic bullet that will make a service perfect for every client, under every circumstance, there are a lot of ways to ensure that their needs are met and that service is run efficiently. Which features of a superior shared service will work best with which organization can be debated, but there really aren’t those many elements in this discussion. Today, we are going to take a look at the decisions you need to make to boost how client’s rate shared service or control costs. So, let’s dive right in with…
Business Model: In order to provide the right services for your client, you need to know what they are trying to achieve. The most basic question you need to answer is, “Do you want this service to grow?” Some clients may want you to expand as much as possible, especially if you are replacing a higher-cost resource. Others may want to keep your service limited to certain hours, a specific cost or a specific cost per unit. If you don’t know if your clients want you to grow or shrink, you may be headed to unexpected disappointment every time you “improve” your service.
Re-Baseline: When a service has been in operation for a long time, the needs of clients often change. Clients who used your service after they were in production, may have simply accepted the way your service worked without trying to customize it. If you now support many different groups, chances are they have different needs. Go back and talk to your clients or survey them. Do they all need all the features of your services? Are some of the functions much more important than others? Does every group need the same hours of support? Find out what everyone wants. You may be surprised to find that some very expensive aspects of your support are not very highly valued.
Service Agreements: Once you know what each client wants, think like an entrepreneur. Your culture may severely limit “customizing” services or it may encourage it. But if you have the ability to bill for different service levels, give some thought to what each client is asking for, what it would cost the client (not just today but over at least three years), and how that would affect your operation… and the firm as a whole. Call it a service charter, but the process of developing this agreement can drive out the reasons why clients complain about your services AND identify unnecessary operating costs.
Primary & Secondary Clients: Carry the entrepreneurial model further. When you run a business you have tier one clients and other clients. If 90% of your service is consumed by a single client, they are your tier one. If they want your service to change or go in a certain direction, you need to do it. Alternatively, if you have 10 clients who each consume between 8% and 12% of your services, then no single client dominates service delivery and changes need to be based on the entire client base. Even so, go back to the data from re-baselining. In one or two years, will your client mix still be the same? Do you need to start moving service levels towards a future model?
Management Reports: If you don’t already produce client specific reports, you need to start. Whatever you are using for reporting needs to be able to show the client, and the activity attributable to that client. Each client needs to know the details of how they are using your services, and you need to know how services are being used by clients. When you have clear reporting, you may not only learn that certain features of your service are more or less popular than you assumed… you also create a common language to discuss service levels and service problems. Rather than clients telling you to, “improve your service,” service reports turn this conversation into, “We need better turnaround times on the weekends.” Converting complaints into actionable improvement plans is the result when you put good management reporting in place.
Security: One last thing to remember is that when you have a shared environment… especially in a regulated or specially secure environment (financial services, legal, accounting, consulting)… you have an obligation to make sure that you have taken all necessary steps have been taken to ensure that each client’s data is kept secure. Issues of data security can occur even in a dedicated service environment. When you operate a shared service, you have an even higher obligation to ensure that client data is handled carefully and securely. If you work in a global environment, verify rules of operation in other offices. Europe has formalized many rules for privacy (as well as security) that are not necessarily intuitive to a US manager.
Dividing your management attention between multiple clients is difficult, at best. However, if you carefully examine each of these issues you will be able to build (or re-engineer) a more responsive and more efficient service. Of course, it would be easier still if someone could just walk you through each of these issues and give you specific responses that you could adapt to your environment… a specific toolkit that will get you to version 2.0 of your service. Gee that would be convenient, wouldn’t it? So, why don’t we tackle that in our next blog? We’ll build a simple “how to” checklist specifically for improving shared services. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today… but it’s just the start for this subject!