3 Key Building Blocks for a Successful Service Provider Relationship

We see trends come and go in the eDiscovery world—new products, new technology and changes in the law. Service providers, trying to be nimble, react to these developments, creating marketing and offering webinars to demonstrate expertise. This is great—I am all for marketing and webinars, but as a sales professional who has spent a number of years in this business, I believe that if we stay true to the basics, even if we don’t jump on the latest buzz, we ensure a successfully ran project. The following are my top three eDiscovery service provider basics. 

1. Communication 

As is the case with almost all relationships, communication is one of the most important cornerstones for a strong foundation. Strong internal communication within the service provider’s organization and strong communication between you and your service provider will take you most of the way to a well-run engagement. 

There are many team members that assist in the process of getting the project to the finish line so it is imperative that all internal components must communicate. Sales, client services, consulting, litigation support, processing, hosting, IT, analytics, and production may be involved with any project. If the sales person does not properly communicate with the client services or consulting team, there will be a ripple effect, which may lead to an undesirable outcome. Similarly, if the operations team does not properly communicate with the client services team, the client may receive incorrect reporting.

How will you know whether or not the service providers you are considering have strong internal communications? Ask them to describe their communication flow, including escalation of problems. They should have a description of their flow in place that they can promptly provide to you, and it should have few touch points—that is, the right people should be involved in communicating—not too few and not too many. Kind of a Goldilocks moment. Similarly, your service provider should respond promptly, keep you advised of project/case developments (often, if necessary) and alert you immediately should any issues arise.

2. Bandwidth

Does the service provider have sufficient human and operational resources to get the current job done, and be ready for the next job? Are there too many points of possible failure because only a few people really understand the tools and workflow? Is one person wearing too many hats so that before you know it they are the only person who can really help you? (See Communication, above.) A team should have multiple experts—but not too many. Another Goldilocks example.

Operational bandwidth is also critical to support the rapid turnaround times so common in our industry. When choosing a provider partner, consider setting up a pilot project to vet their operational and human bandwidth. Don’t be fooled by how a provider characterizes their capability – It is your prerogative as a consumer to test them before committing on a larger scale.

3. Accountability

While accountability can mean many things, I focus on my role as your main point of contact and my responsibility to deliver what was promised.

Things don’t always go as planned, so we have to remain accountable for the actual results. It is inevitable that mistakes will happen in any human-driven process. What matters is the frequency of these mistakes and how the provider responds to them. When choosing a long-term provider, simply ask them if they have proven metrics for Quality Control, deliverables, processing turnarounds times, hosting uptime etc. What is their response? If it is apparent you have caught them flat footed by asking this question, proceed with caution.

Delivering on what was promised is often harder than it sounds. If someone always says yes to deadlines that seem unmanageable, or does not provide alternative recommendations that may better fit the project’s needs, again, proceed with caution.

There are many more areas that we could dig into here but, in my opinion, these are three key building blocks for a sustainable and scalable relationship. There are many great providers and progressive technologies that have been developed to manage the demanding industry. My advice is to embrace technology, educate oneself on best practices and choose a partner that can help navigate these sometimes turbulent waters, and above all else, never forget about the basics.

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