How a Diversity MSP is bringing fresh-thinking and value to large US employers by returning to the roots of customer service
Corner Store Convenience Blended with Boutique Touches
Shopkeepers know a few things about customer service. They know an audience that keeps wanting to come back and high traffic mean everything. To achieve it, they know they have to treat every customer sightly differently, to listen hard and concentrate on servicing specific customer needs.
My mother was a shopkeeper. While she was never pushy with her walk in customers, she took the time to learn their preferences, interests, and behaviors. No customer left the shop before being touched by her friendly persona, openness, generosity, and willingness to go the extra mile, when invited, to find what they were looking for.
Even in a digital age, when customers can be thousands of miles away, we all still crave that personal attention, that emotional connection you get with someone who’s working hard to serve your needs. What if every customer experience was like that? A blend of local store convenience with the white-glove experience of a boutique?
Humans are good at remembering experiences. We remember the smell of the first new car we sat in, and the delightful ‘melt in your mouth’ taste of that awesome freshly baked cookie. Whenever we encounter a buying experience, I think most of us hope the experience will have a take-away like that: not ‘the thing that generally happens when you work with a remote supplier who knows they’re too far away to really care how you feel.’
When we created Workspend, the business was fashioned on an experience, not a product
Workspend is a diverse, woman-led Managed Service Provider and our role is to help large employers to ‘manage the work and reduce the spend’ of operating a contingent workforce. Our teams effectively outsource the sourcing, management, technology and administration of the contingent workforces that now represent over 40% of the workforce for most large US companies.
Like other industries, there are larger, more mature competitors. And they are extremely good competitors. Their processes are sound, but sometimes oversized and too prescriptive for our discerning clients.
When we created Workspend, our vision was to create an MSP committed to bringing the rewards of a diverse, culturally rich on-demand workforce to bear in the US market. It’s become what today our customers call THE WORKSPEND WAY.
What is the Workspend Way and why is it different?
So far as our customers are concerned, we are… ‘good listeners and great people,’ we’re… ‘easy to do business with,’ we… ‘bring in an expert outside perspective that we hugely value,’ and we’re… ‘always prepared to listen and step up their game.’
That’s how the Workspend Way translates to our MSP customers.
The Workspend Way has become our trademark. For us, it’s a way of articulating a set of values that resound through our daily contact with customers. Underpinning it, is a set of 5 personality traits that operate behind the scenes to shape the work culture—traits that make our culture something that’s uniquely ours—to create an experience our customers definitely pick up on.
#1 Inclusion by design
Sometimes, inclusion is treated as a sticking plaster. We’ve always seen diversity and inclusion as the beating heart of our business and service experience; not something you bolt on to something else.
For Workspend, Inclusion is important with our primary focus going beyond just the traditional meaning and focus associated with diversity. To continue to thrive we have to ensure an inclusive environment for all team members as it relates to our overall strategic direction.
The majority of our team come from minority groups of one form or another. And we define D&I in the broadest sense, considering different decisioning styles, cultural behaviors and much more besides. That’s why our onboarding programs are so comprehensive in educating our stakeholders on our Respect Agenda.
In addition to respecting and reinforcing our norms of behavior (Respecting Diversity), this education program includes matters such as how to survive in a corporate environment, how to thrive in a remote team ecosystem, how to respectfully communicate using a variety of mediums to people from different cultures.
#2 Technology wrapped in humanity
There’s a bit of a trend in enterprise thinking going on, where highly vocal practitioners suggest that every business challenge can benefit from a technology solution. We disagree.
You don’t need a computer programme to make a plan; or to prioritize work activities and remove those activities on the list that don’t make a difference; or find suppliers who know how to get a job done better. Sometimes, it’s ideas and people that solve matters before they become a problem.
Whilst we are fanatical about the potential of organizations to become data driven in every aspect of their operation, we know technology works better when there are people around to manage relationships, absorb ideas, question the norm, liaise with stakeholders, and be there when things go wrong.
#3 Praise and reward beyond expectations
We profoundly believe that SLAs should not act as a ‘stick only’ solution; there should also be a carrot! Perhaps uncharacteristically, we like to discuss incentives and rewards of our team and those of our stakeholders
#4 Encourage curiosity and ‘don’t ask, don’t get’
We encourage our customers to set the bar on their service experience expectations. We’ve focused our programs to be modular, and therefore highly adaptable. We priorize customer service as a ‘thing.’ It means we ask our customers to be relentlessly curious; to push forward with ‘What if?’ questions—and adopt a marginal gains technique to keep pushing for on-going service improvements.
#5 Landing planes by incrementally measuring progress on everything that matters
There’s that old saying that goes, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail,’ and the Japanese proverb (often attributed to Soichiro Honda) that says, ‘Vision without action is a daydream, while action without vision is a nightmare.’
You never know if a plan is working if you can’t measure the start and the net change taking place.
That’s why we always have a robust data modelling approach to target the measures that matter; the measures that determine if effort and investment is translating into improvements and results.
The Workspend Way wasn’t something we crafted in a boardroom, it has evolved as a consequence of the beliefs, attitudes and efforts of our team. Strangely, the strongest characteristic of our competitive advantage wasn’t a great idea crafted by one of our execs, but has surfaced over time through the passions of our team.
Can any organization create its own culture in the way that Workspend has? Probably yes, but it’s not likely to be something forged by design. We’ve found the solution is to set an aspiring direction, give our teams the opportunity to thrive (with a lot of self-determination) and support them as they grow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ian Tomlin is a management consultant and writer on the subject of enterprise computing and organizational design. He serves on the Workspend Management Team. Ian has written several books on the subject of digital transformation, cloud computing, social operating systems, codeless applications development, business intelligence, data science, office security, customer data platforms, vendor management systems, Managed Service Provisioning (MSP), customer experience, and organizational design. He can be reached via LinkedIn or Twitter.