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Outsourcing Communication Best Practices
Pre-2014

If anything can go wrong in outsourcing, chances are, communication is to blame. People tend to take communication for granted and assume that much of it is adequately conveyed through presumptions when nothing could be further from the truth. Fact is, communication in outsourcing is as important as the outsourcing project that it supports. Here are some ways in which you can use it as an instrument of success.

1. Use communication as a vetting tool.

Thoroughly vetting qualified service providers is one of the most important things you can do as an outsourcer, and although most vetting processes focus on skill and delivery, the ability to effectively communicate with them mustn't be ignored. Quite simply, communication can indicate how well or how poorly a candidate will perform.

Consider the prospect of outsourcing abroad, for example. Offshoring introduces a unique set of language barriers that could create delivery delays, or worse, development errors -- all based on a simple translation mistake. That's an obvious instance of communication failure, of course. What isn't so obvious are risks embedded in communication style.

You needn't outsource overseas to suffer from communication problems. Even syntax and semantic differences between you and your service providers expose outsourcing projects to the same risks as those introduced with foreign service providers.

2. Use communication as milestone tools.

Depending on what's written inside a generic outsourcing contract just isn't enough for some projects -- especially projects that are deeply complex. Intricate outsourcing contracts need milestones to not only identify and correct problems, they additionally need milestones to keep a project on track and ensure its tasks are completed as intended.

3. Use a stable communication vehicle.

All efforts to identify appropriate candidates and establish a mutual understanding would be for naught, of course, if their delivery were faulty. The ability to communicate, in this case, is just as important as what is communicated.

Telephones, fax machines, couriers, server databases, email devices, and all other communication devices must, therefore, be in working order at all times. And if potential problems exist, upgrades, alternative tools, and anything else required to establish a stable method of communication become a priority. For more, discuss this topic in the Outsourcing Advice forum.

4. Use communication as a training tool.

It's common practice to send a congratulatory letter to your chosen outsourcing candidate, but you can play an important role in improving services by communicating with providers who didn't make the cut as well. Informing service providers why they didn't succeed in winning your contract helps them discover what they need to do to improve their presentation and/or portfolio.

The providers who take your information to heart are motivated to become more competitive via things like higher quality services, lower prices, faster delivery, or privy amenities. These are things that we all benefit from, and by communicating their importance, we can gain from them while helping to improve the entire outsourcing industry as a whole.

5. Use professional communication as a standard mode of exchange.

Minimizing outsourcing risks is more than significant. It's a required step of the entire outsourcing process. The method in which you communicate, therefore, plays a crucial role. At all costs, reduce (or even eliminate) the use of technical jargon, slang, buzzwords, and anything that could introduce confusion. Replace friendly talk with business talk, and remain positive even during difficult times.

Reasons why are simple. They first, establish a clear understanding of what's required, and they second, indicate the type of service you expect to receive. Communicating with anything less than a professional rapport may inadvertently suggest you're not serious about what you want, and that could unfortunately, trigger the same in what's delivered.

6. Use documentation with all forms of communication.

Just as communication plays an important role, so does its documentation. A properly documented outsourcing project creates a roadmap of who did what, when, where, why, and how. The typical outsourcing contract expectedly lays the course for such a roadmap, however, reality and experience dictate contract amendments are par for the course.

That's why an outsourcing contract of any size and complexity is open to amendments, and though written amendments are strongly recommended, it isn't uncommon for parties to amend a contract through email, phone, fax, or nowadays, even a tweet, text message, or chat IM. Problems can occur when said amendments aren't documented, especially when a dispute arises, and a 3rd party needs to verify claims put forth during a conflict.

Don't leave anything to chance. Summarize everything agreed to outside of a contract in writing. Have both parties sign the documentation at appropriate times (after an important milestone has been reached, for example), and archive the entire collection of accumulated material in a safe place for later retrieval.