HRO Providers’ Quality Programs – Where’s the Beef?

Just last week a NelsonHall client asked me about HRO service providers’ quality programs. A bit surprisingly, my mini-research found a scattershot representation of available information. While I know more complete details would have been available had I done a full research analysis, and that vendors can present their capabilities for RFP responses, I was little taken aback at the limited data available on the providers’ web sites and in many marketing and briefing packages.

There was quite a bit of information on certifications such as SAS70, CMMI levels and various ISO certifications. Some providers, including ACS, Ceridian, IBM, Logica and Wipro, specifically mentioned use of Six Sigma and Lean programs. One vendor listed the vague, “other quality assurance programs and tools.” Yes, technical certifications are valuable, and use of named quality programs like Six Sigma is good, but these may or may not indicate that quality is integrated across the business and reaches well beyond the IT and data centers.

Earlier in my career I was in Quality for many years, doing everything from facilitating quality teams to developing and delivering training and helping design and implement quality programs. I had big fun during the early days of the U.S. Baldrige Awards system for business, becoming an internal examiner for my company’s (AT&T) internal awards program, as well for preparation before official Baldrige Award examiner visits. So I know what an integrated quality system can do for customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and the bottom line business results that please shareholders.

The days of high promoting of quality programs has passed, and while information on quality does not need to lead in marketing materials, it should be available and easy to find. Clients and prospective buyers want to know the provider has a current record of meeting its SLA obligations and cares about customer satisfaction. Since HRO vendor decisions tend to be longer term commitments with substantial barriers to changing, buyers also want assurance the vendor will be able to deliver in the future.

Clients do not pay for vendor quality programs, even when certified and award-winning. Clients pay for business performance achieved through quality programs. Excellence in quality is an indicator that a service provider can reliably deliver on service, operational and compliance promises.

A comprehensive quality program has competitive advantages for both clients and the service provider – ensuring performance for clients and achieving performance objectives for the business – and should be driven by the service provider’s strategy and business objectives.

Today, major HRO providers have distributed service delivery networks, many global and often including a complex array of suppliers. The more the services and workflow is segmented, the more important quality becomes. Quality should have an equal focus on the internal business efficiency needed to achieve profitability and the ability to fuel future growth.

HRO vendors, let’s see more complete, easy to find quality program information. And please support the information with more than a list of programs and certifications; “beef” it up with  at least some lean protein tidbits which provide evidence that your programs are widespread and effective. Even more importantly, make sure your quality system is robust and is serving both your clients and your business as the fight continues to maintain and increase your margins to sustainable levels while retaining and adding satisfied clients.

Linda Merritt, Research Director, HRO, NelsonHall

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