Perhaps we should get the joke out of the way first. Using the term “Client Intimacy” does have certain connotations which seemingly have little to do with BPO. However, if this gets people’s attention and makes them focus on what getting close to clients really means, it is not a bad thing.

The trouble with some client relationships is that people talk the talk of wanting to be a “trusted advisor,” “strategic supplier” or “transformation partner” without thinking about the true meaning and implications of the terms.  We all aspire to be seen as more than a commodity supplier, being valued and viewed as irreplaceable, but do we “walk the talk”?

For sure, a strong, intimate relationship between a BPO provider and their client benefits both sides and is a laudable aspiration. In the ideal scenario, the client realizes significant cost savings, operational agility and business transformation from our best practice approach and expertise while we, the provider, enjoy the fruits of a contract which delivers sustained long-term revenue and profit.

The trouble is the reality often falls far short of these fine aspirations. How, then, do we as the BPO provider build a deep, trusting long term relationship with the client? How do we ensure goals are aligned? How do we create this fabled client intimacy?

As I said in a previous post, one thing we should all start doing is listening more carefully to clients and understanding them at a deeper level, rather than attempting to come with answers in hand. And, a simple fact is that we do not spend enough quality time, physically, with our clients. These days communication is increasingly done via conference call, email and SMS. In fact, outsourcing, by its very nature seems antithetical to being onsite. But how does one build the understanding, familiarity and trust that underpins a strategic relationship if you are not building adequate rapport with the client? (Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages famously pointed out, only 7% of the information in any communication is conveyed by the actual words themselves). We must invest the time and effort to truly get to know the person on the other side of the table; what motivates and aggravates him/her, career aspirations, personal “hot-buttons” and interaction style (e.g. social vs. private, fact driven vs. emotional).

Beyond the interpersonal aspects of the relationship, the move to “Trusted Advisor” status requires that we also work hard to get a deeper understanding of our clients’ industry, the economics of their business and the particular strategic and operational challenges they face. This will enable us to identify the value drivers and business outcomes that make the most difference. We are then armed with the knowledge to proactively bring new innovative ideas forward and engage in a more strategic dialogue. In my experience, most clients will appreciate the effort to put yourself in their shoes and as a result, are more likely to open up to you about issues beyond those pertaining only to the current engagement. It could even mean that we are comfortable enough to say no to the client or push back sometimes when it’s in their best interest.

What is your client really looking for in the relationship?

Transactional Supplier  OR  Trusted Advisor
Throughput    Transformation
Focus on inputs   Focus on outcomes
SLA mindset    Business value
Arms-length   Seeks input
My way   Together

Life, of course, is never as black and white as these lists suggest but the point is that we need to understand who we are dealing with and what they are really looking for from the relationship. The worst scenario is when the “talk” (with either party) is all about the right column but the behaviors (of either or both parties) all fall in the left column or vice versa. Let’s be real. Both models are viable for both the client and the provider. It may be that a given organization’s culture favors a transactional supplier style and therefore may never treat us as a Trusted Advisor. If this is the case it is important to align the operational model and engagement team (and personalities) accordingly. The good news, though, is that we are seeing more clients express a sincere interest in a Trusted Advisor relationship; a model which Capgemini BPO is perfectly suited to deliver. So, lets “walk the talk”, together, and deliver true transformation into this vibrant and evolving market.

Getting close to clients is, quite simply, about saying what you mean and meaning what you say, having transparent and open communication and being in it for the long run and for the benefit of both parties. In this sense, client intimacy is like intimacy in any relationship: it’s about knowing and trusting your partner.