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Jul 10
2003

Strategic Partnerships

Posted by: Steve Marr

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In today's complex business environment, relationships between customers and suppliers are ever changing. Outsourcing has become more prevalent as businesses seek to control costs, but effective outsourcing often requires a company to train its vendors to ensure quality of service and on-time delivery. When outsourcing is handled well, both the buyer and seller benefit.

 

The key is for managers to clearly establish the type of training needed, who will pay for it, and how training will strengthen vendor relationships, increase sales, and improve customer service. With cooperative training, vendors are better able to meet their customer's requirements and customers often see improvement in quality and productivity. Clear communication between customer and vendor is essential, because "through presumption comes nothing but strife" (Proverbs 13:10, NASB). 


Celeste Medina manages a telephone center in Phoenix that employs English- and Spanish-speaking telephone operators. The call center represents many companies, taking orders, answering customer questions, and handling complaints. "When customers call, they often have questions about the products," says Medina. "Many of our customers provide training material to answer the most common questions. We also have several customers that send representatives to our facility to provide onsite training for our operators. Our customers pay their own traveling expenses, and we cover the cost of our staff while in training." The training curriculum is determined by the customer, and Medina has learned to appreciate King Solomon's advice: "Take my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather the than the choicest gold" (Proverbs 8:10, NASB). As a result of the training they have received, call center business has increased rapidly over the past three years.



Medina's call center provides customer service that may include accepting merchandise returns. However, before a product is accepted for return, the operator works through a troubleshooting list with the caller (based on training received from the manufacturer). Each time a problem is resolved without requiring a return, both the operator and the call center earn a small bonus. "Over time," Medina says, "sales have increased and customer relationships have been strengthened. Both parties achieve winning results when we collaborate on training, and we both experience a great return on the time and money invested in mutual training."



Bill Baxter manages a temporary employment agency in Houston focusing on clients that require seasonal, temporary, or sporadic office assistance. In a tight labor market, Baxter works to balance current and future customer needs with the available workforce. "I often do not have people on call whose skills match those demanded by my customers. Customers expect to receive a person with all the skills necessary to become effective immediately on the job."


Baxter arranges for specialized training to prepare his pool of temporary workers to meet future requirements. Some receive generalized training in software programs such as Quick Books, Microsoft Word, or computer graphics design. Others require specialized training. "One customer that does Web page design needs people with specific skills in graphic design to work 20-40 hours per month," says Baxter. "At my own expense, I have trained three people in that specialty to meet the demand. No competitor of mine has people with those skills, so I have a regular customer." Baxter covers the cost of training, but he expects the prospective employees to learn the skills on their own time in order to share the cost of the investment. Baxter believes that each dollar invested in training has paid handsome dividends, proving that "he who sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly- and he who sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6 NASB).



Anthony Bell's company in Detroit assembles overseas components into finished products. When he heard about an automotive product that was assembled in Germany using many U. S. parts, he approached the German manufacturer and offered to assemble the components in Detroit. At first, the German firm was reluctant to relinquish control of the assembly process, due to concerns over final quality. To allay their fears, Bell agreed to fly a team of German experts to Michigan to train his entire staff and ensure that product quality would meet the company's standards. In return for absorbing these expenses, Bell received a long-term contract, established a new customer, and increased the German supplier's profit margin.

 


Embracing opportunities to form strategic partnerships can help companies develop new business lines and strengthen old relationships. The prophet Amos wrote, "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3 KJV). Wise business managers understand that finding strategic partners and forging effective training agreements will pay future dividends.

Steve Marr Your Christian Business Coach

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