Perfecting Service Management

Issue #45

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Exploring Outsourcing: The Request for Proposal
by Kurt Jensen

In the first article of this series, we explored the basics of outsourcing, defined in simple terms as paying someone else to do a job. This article will focus on one method of exploring outsourcing: the Request for Proposal (RFP).

The RFP is a document that details the job and asks vendors to submit a proposal describing how they will do it and for how much. It sounds simple enough; however creating an RFP that accurately describes the job, outlines service levels and produces meaningful proposals can be challenging. Providing too much 'grey area' in the RFP can result in responses that take a disproportionate amount of time to analyze, while being too restrictive may result in missing qualitative features, new discoveries or may even cause the vendor to disqualify themselves prematurely. Keep in mind receiving an RFP is an opportunity for the recipient and can take considerable resources to address. The creation of the RFP is a critical component, which if done properly, will serve all parties effectively and efficiently.

RFP Contents

The RFP must contain well organized sections designed to address the structure and content of the response.

Executive Summary – Describes the central reason for the RFP, contents and contains information about the requester. This is the 'first impression' page or section.

Governing Rules – Contains rules of engagement, legal language and any special provisions which apply to specific circumstances.

Scope of Work – Outlines what the job entails and describes how the work is generated. This section contains details unique to the work, vendor/requester responsibilities and contracted expectations/performance levels. Needless to say, this is an extremely important section!

Proposal Format – Provides guidance regarding content and structure of the respondent's proposal. Balancing grey area against restrictions plays a significant role in this section.

Proposal Submission – Informs the recipient of the schedule, where to send submissions and other post response rules.

Appendices – These sections contain virtually anything deemed to be beneficial to the recipient, such as forecasts, nature of inquiries or a procedural walk-through.

Creating an RFP takes considerable time and requires considerable thought. Being crisp, clear and concise will not only result in a better RFP, but it will also help you identify issues that may need more thought internally. After all, if you cannot describe it easily, how can you expect an outsourcer to do it?

Whether you decide to write an RFP in-house or engage assistance, managing the potential flood of information contained in responses begins with the RFP creation process. In the next article we will wade through that flood and get to the next step, "Selecting Oral Interview Candidates."

If you are thinking about outsourcing, we can help you manage the process (while you focus on your business!) - feel free to contact us.

View previous articles in this series

Managing the Enterprise Customer Relationship(Part 7): It's Not What You Say But How you Say It
by Craig Bailey and Lauren Weiss

Words are very powerful communication tools, critical for conveying ideas. The words you choose, the order you use them in, and the method you use to convey them are all important considerations in making sure you best communicate your message.

Consider the phrase "awful pretty." Now, let's take those same words in a different order: "pretty awful." While this may be a crude example, it demonstrates that the words we use and the order in which we use these words can have a dramatic impact on the message received. Now let's apply this to our topic of "Managing the Enterprise Customer Relationship."

If you are in charge of managing an enterprise customer relationship, you certainly have had the unpleasant opportunity to deliver less than stellar news to a client. Perhaps it was a broken promise or a missed performance level. Your ability to properly communicate this information to the customer will determine if you maintain credibility with the client or not.

As an example, let's say that you are the project manager for a critical initiative that you are driving for the client and a critical milestone is in jeopardy. Knowing that "bad news does not get better with age" you want to alert the client. Your approach to providing this update will literally determine if you are an amateur or a professional at managing customer perceptions and expectations.

The amateur's approach is that of calling the customer and stating in a downtrodden voice: "We have just hit a major obstacle, which puts the launch in jeopardy. I just wanted to let you know." Upon getting this off of his or her chest, the "amateur" lets out an audible sigh of relief.

A professional would take a different approach. With a positive/confident tone of voice, he or she would inform the customer, also in a timely manner: "We have hit a speed-bump. Here is how we got here. We have the following options…It is my every intention to ensure that there is no delay to launch, or that any impact is minimized. I will report back in 24 hours on a suggested course of action and impact to the plan (if any)."

Some might say "why not wait until you had all the information before you alerted the customer?" Consider that you are working with a multi-faceted and complex enterprise customer. If you don't alert the customer in a timely manner, that naysayer (customer employee) on the project will be happy to do it for you. And, they may not share the news in the context within which you would deliver it. If you recall from prior editions of this series, you own the entire customer experience. As such, you are in a better position to control customer perception during these critical moments by providing the advance notice, within context, and promise additional details in a specific period of time.

Another important consideration for communicating, both internally and externally, is the delivery mechanism. Some subtleties (tone, humor) can be lost in written communication. While your words might be clear, your tone can easily be misinterpreted by someone reading your message in a different mindset, particularly if that person doesn't know you very well. What you intended as humor might be misconstrued as anger. Even what you think is a simple detailing of facts might be seen by others as trying to place blame. When preparing communication, a professional will consider not only what words to use, but also how best to convey them.

Stay tuned for a future series on "Amateur or Professional" that explores additional scenarios and how they can best be handled to demonstrate professionalism in managing customer interactions and relationships.

View previous articles in this series

Exploring Outsourcing: The Request for Proposal

+ Managing the Enterprise Customer Relationship

+ Featured Whitepaper

+ Recommended Reading


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Recommended Reading
Interested in what it takes to be a successful and "professional" project manager or consultant? Download Craig Bailey's presentation Positive Power Influence given at PMI's Mass Bay Chapter Career Development Day on 5/22/2004.

Featured White Paper: Rewarding and Incenting Customer Service Representatives
If you like our articles, you'll love our white papers! Our editing team has been hard at work generating white papers from the many articles we've written over the last year.

This issue's featured white paper is "Rewarding and Incenting Customer Service Representatives" by Craig Bailey.

The behavior you reward is the behavior you get, so it is important to establish the right reward and incentive program for your customer service personnel – one that will keep your customer service teams happy and providing consistently high quality service. This white paper offers some approaches that have proven effective in achieving the desired behaviors and levels of performance from customer service personnel.

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