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How to preserve your relationship with an outsourcing partner

When an outsourcing partner messes up your agreed services, what's the next step? Expert Jonathan Hassell offers advice about keeping the ship afloat.

"We're the phone company. We don't have to care."

As surely as Lily Tomlin's memorable "Saturday Night Live" sketch resonates to this day, outsourcing providers around the globe are experiencing a renaissance. With so many players on the field, the likelihood is very high that your company will have a negative outsourcing experience.

Jonathan Hassell
Jonathan Hassell

Maybe you've experienced a prolonged outage. Maybe the quality of your service has degraded. Maybe operations are taking a lot longer than they should. No matter what your particular experience is, it's very simple for a customer-provider relationship to sour. When it does, it's vital for you to maintain your IT operations and business process solutions. So, how do you preserve a relationship and an outsourcing contract when things have been very, very bad in the past?

Here are three key tips for moving forward to create a better working relationship for everyone involved:

Admit to the vendor that you're willing to continue with their services. Often the unknown creates a vacuum between customer and vendor. The customer wonders what the outsourcing partner plans to do to service them better in the wake of a negative event or an ongoing unresolved problem. Meanwhile, the vendor wonders how much they're willing to coddle a customer when the outsourcing contract isn't set in stone. They think, "Is the company so disillusioned that they're likely to jump ship on the contract?" Resentment, bitterness and dissatisfaction also can poison the well and make it very difficult to have a positive working relationship -- or at the very least, an outsourcing relationship that meets your needs -- as time goes on.

Scripts for dealing with outsourcing vendors

Here are a few dispassionate statements that describe a problem with an outsourcing partner and give a solid footing for resolution. By using clear statements, you can avoid finger-pointing or creating a situation where the outsourcing vendor feels defensive.

  • "Your service outage required me to provision services with another vendor, a rush order that cost me $16,000 on top of a minimum three-month contract."
  • "The 17 workstations you have sent me since February 2012 have all developed problems with the video cards. Those problems cost two hours worth of technician salary each time to call in and get warranty replacements. On many occasions, our technicians have to follow up these requests three and four times, further wasting money."
  • "We had to postpone plans to deploy a new on-premises site when we didn't receive the promised bandwidth. This required us to shelve or otherwise adjust our expenses to the tune of $6,000."


As the customer, you can set a new pattern in motion: While acknowledging past troubles, offer to continue outsourcing services. Point out reasons why the outsourcing partner's services are a good match for your organization's needs, then lay out a set of specific requirements that will address your dissatisfaction going forward. Be ready to sit down with your vendor with a fresh face, and be willing to work out a mutually agreeable outsourcing contract.

Have a specific list of problems the vendor has caused, with the actual damages listed and audited. It's easy to breathlessly berate an outsourcing partner when things go wrong and issue veiled threats like, "I'm disappointed in the level of outsourcing service I've seen and the time my management team has to spend on the budgets to repair these issues," or "If I continue to feel this isolated and ignored, I'll have to review our outsourcing contract with my executive colleagues." Both are direct quotes, by the way, taken from two very different but equally tense real-life situations. Such statements simply escalate tension without moving the discussion forward.

Instead, try a different approach: Take a dispassionate view of the events surrounding your bad outsourcing experience and document the problems associated with it. This provides a levelheaded look at what went wrong and why the other party should be interested in fixing it. Check out the sidebar for some examples of how to productively talk about problems with outsourcing vendors.

Renegotiate a new outsourcing contract with penalties or an "out." It's possible to turn a negative into a positive. This isn't doubling down on a bad IT service bet, mind you; this is using the vendor's position on their back foot to assure a better service at lower cost going forward.

You can use a tight but reasonable description of your outsourcing service problem or your previous bad interactions with the outsourcing vendor to act as leverage for renegotiating your outsourcing contract, even before it might technically be due for renewal or reconsideration. Of course, you'd do this with an eye toward lowering recurring costs, opening up more support options for little incremental cost, bringing an existing renewal date or expiration date forward by a wide margin, or providing for additional service-level-agreement penalties for nonperformance.

In short, combine a willingness to enter into a new outsourcing contract with specific examples of problems and their associated costs for your organization. This way, you frame a discussion with outsourcing partners where you are in control of the outsourcing services provided and have a lot of leverage in determining what outsourcing costs are acceptable.

Jonathan Hassell is president of The Sun Valley Group Inc. and an author, consultant and speaker in Charlotte, N.C. Hassell's books include RADIUS, Learning Windows Server 2003, Hardening Windows and most recently, Windows Vista: Beyond the Manual. Write to him at

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