Based on Horses for Sources blueprint and the input of pretty much every customer I've spoken with, if an outsourcing relationship is troubled, the quality of service provider personnel is a major contributing factor. A successful relationship will almost always involve clients who feel their account management team is suitably empowered, responsive and present. It's probably safe to say that no unhappy customer is completely satisfied with their account management team. So the question becomes: how to ensure you get the provider's "A-Team" in outsourcing? If an outsourcing is (as some might say) something like a marriage, then the following relationship principles are worth considering to position the marriage for success and to increase your chances of getting and keeping that "A-Team" partner.

Look (and vet) Before you Leap: Knowing who will make up the account management team and having the opportunity to review and approve who the service provider plans to have assigned to your account is crucial. The customer needs to evaluate whether the members of the service provider's team meet their expectations, both in terms of their skillsets and experience and their personalities. The importance of the customer's culture cannot be overstated and it is crucial for the account management team to understand that culture when assigning a delivery team. An advance meeting with the proposed account team will also afford the customer an opportunity to assess whether the proposed members of the team are capable of reacting to and empowered to effectuate change.

Make Time for Each Other: It is important that the relationship managers from both sides plan on and regularly spend "quality" time together starting early in the relationship. I believe that it is important for key members of the provider's delivery team to sit in on some portion of the contract negotiations so they understand the customer's goals and objectives, which will help the service provider meet expectations. Having key members sit in negotiations will also help minimize the inevitable surprises that will come up in the customer's operating environment (or at least arm them with visibility into what those surprises might look like). The contract should provide for regularly scheduled meetings within a disciplined process, in addition to the ad hoc meetings required to address and resolve problems.

The PreNup: There should be levers in the contract focused on the quality and performance of account management team. One of the most important points to address during contractual discussions is the manner in which the customer and provider will address performance issues relating to the account management team. Does the service provider have the will and ability to quickly assess personnel issues and replace the personnel that are the source of the problem? What are the concrete steps that the service provider will commit to undertake to address the customer's concerns? The contract should include methods by which the account management team is evaluated on an ongoing basis - some combination of key stakeholder surveys, end user surveys and service levels measuring responsiveness to name a few. The governance model should include a mechanism to facilitate the manner in which the relationship managers will address disharmony. Finally, to maximize continuity of service and the operational knowledge of the provider team, the contract should include provisions that are designed to limit the turnover of "key personnel" and ensure suitable customer input for their replacements.

In summary, the keys to a long happy outsourcing marriage (well, at least 5 years or so) and to getting the A-team from your service provider partner includes aligning early on what is expected, continuing to manage those expectations on an ongoing basis and having the proper mechanisms in place to communicate, respond to and resolve issues when they inevitably do arise.