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FMI and Electric Ireland share what it takes to create a winning strategic partnership.

02/05/2022

The dynamic relationship between a client and an agency is often described as a partnership. As with any business partnership it is an intricate weave of personalities, objectives and financial outputs. It is complex, notoriously hard to define and even harder to perfect. Some agencies do it well and some, well, do it better.

Our Irish partners FMI recently won the CCMA Contact Centre Award for best Strategic Partnership with Electric Ireland. FMI’s partnership with Electric Ireland spans over a decade. It a relationship that started out with door-to-door utilities sales and, over the years, has progressed to include Contact Centre campaigns.

Nicola de Beer, Managing Director of FMI, and Mark Driscoll,  Residential  Sales Manager for Electric Ireland recently joined Dorothy O’Byrne MD of the CCMA on a webinar to share what they believe are the core ingredients of a successful strategic partnership.

Here is a summary of the webinar.

Clear foundations 

Clear foundations upon which the partnership was to be based were considered to be integral to a successful strategic partnership.

To build a long-standing partnership takes tremendous effort from both parties. It is important to nurture open,  honest, and clear communication channels at every level throughout the organization; and mutual trust is paramount according to Nicola de Beer. It is also about taking people on a journey, recognizing the teams’ capabilities, identifying the similarities in both businesses’ culture, and it is about understanding the motivational factors that help to build a solid foundation upon which both client and outsource partner can effectively build

For Electric Ireland it  was about having a clear idea of the experience and expertise they were looking for. Their selection process in choosing the right outsource partner is rigorous, and they aimed to have a clear scope work document that outlined their expectations in terms of the quantity and quality of leads to be generated by FMI, their chosen partner.

Although communication is often cited as a factor which is essential to all partnerships, it is the requirement of active listening by the client that is often overlooked, said Mark O Driscoll. He outlined the 3 reasons why he thinks that active listening is so hugely important from their perspective: 

1. If you hire  the services of a company for their expertise, then you should listen to  that expertise.

2. Your strategic partner  is the face and voice of your brand, so you need to listen to understand what they need in order to do the job properly.

3. The outsource teams are the eyes and ears of the brand, so they have an intimate knowledge about what’s going on with consumers in the marketplace. You have to trust your outsourced partners to do their job. This is more important than ever.

Nicola de Beer added that  when both parties feel that they are aligned and working together, this can be hugely empowering for the outsource partner.  This empowerment comes from the top down, and it means that they are then able to confidently and truly empower their employees to represent the brand.  It becomes about the collective “we”. Not about “us and them”. Although this sounds simple to do,  it can be extremely difficult especially when things go wrong. The rhetoric then needs to be about “how do we fix a problem?”, “how do we deal with a challenge?” But equally, it is also about celebrating the wins along the way together.

With the energy crisis looming, things are set to get more challenging and that will inevitably have a knock-on effect when dealing with customers on factors that are beyond everyone’s control.  In instances like this, it is about ensuring that the teams have the right information and tools to handle such situations,  as they ultimately represent the brand in the market.

Accountability and Metrics

Accountability and Metrics were also deemed to be an integral part of a successful partnership.

In the Contact Centre at FMI the detail and transparency of information is a given. FMI have systems that clients are able to log into,  so that they are able to view the data and information in real time. This level of transparency builds trust which is a key pillar of a successful partnership. The advantage of this approach is that it increases accountability and promotes joint engagement. It also creates a more collaborative and proactive approach to challenges in real time.

It has never been more important to give context to the data and analytics of  campaigns. The context of what is going on in the market, in conjunction with the other sales channels, shows Electric Ireland what areas require improvement. This enables  them to fine tune their marketing. Equally important is that this system ensures that the FMI teams  know that their input and insights are heard.

Dynamic partnership

As with any partnership one must recognise that the scope of the relationship will shift over time, and planning for team success and for the systems used is key. So for the partnership between client and outsource company to be successful,  everything has to be done in a collaborative manner and the strategy clearly communicated to the teams. 

Overall, there is an emphasis on clarity of communication, proactive management, accountability and agility that adds value and helps extend the lifecycle of the partnership. It takes a huge commitment from both sides to create a winning partnership. As with any partnership there will be bumps along the road, and as has  been accentuated by Covid, it is the collaboration between partners and the agility of a business to be able to accommodate change and to incorporate new dynamics into the partnership that is so crucial for success.

Both FMI and Electric Ireland were delighted to receive the accolade for the Best Strategic Partnership for 2021 from the Irish CCMA.

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