Overcommunicate to head off issues, set expectations, offer support and accommodate changing client needs.

October 9, 2019

6 Min Read
Keeping people happy


Kevin Flaherty

By Kevin Flaherty, CEO, BLM Technologies

If part of your channel sales strategy is working with companies who supply contractors to handle installation, maintenance and repair, then you’re familiar with the benefits the contractor model offers your customers. You’re likely also very aware of the challenges.

Contract workers are integral to a number of industries. And that’s a good thing, since there’s a growing number of freelance/contract workers in the marketplace. By some estimates, close to 50% of the U.S. workforce will be comprised of freelancers by 2020. In parallel, there’s a millennial component in this equation. A story in Inc. recently noted that estimates suggest by 2025, 75% of the U.S. workforce will be millennials. A separate set of considerations accompanies this age group.

Channel-Partners-Insights-logo-300x109.pngAdd to these factors the current strong economy, and it’s easy to understand the challenges behind keeping millennial-skewing contractors happy. If they’re not, they will quickly — and easily — move to another opportunity. Outsourcing that successfully balances completing and keeping workers happy is something of a daunting task, but it can be done. We’ve needed thousands of contractors over the years, created a division to manage large and long-term project needs, and learned critical lessons along the path of perfecting the practice. Here are four themes to keep in mind when your goal is to hire contractors to keep, not inspire them to leave.

1. Prepare as though your customer’s success depends on it. Does the contractor you’re considering have the right qualifications, certifications, skills, and training for the job? This may seem like an obvious point, but you might be surprised at the number of contractors in jobs who aren’t a fit primarily because they don’t have the knowledge and experience needed. Some contractors become masters at being able to skirt questions related to specific skills and qualifications — and you may not know they did so until you hear from your customer that the contract worker isn’t competent. Ask direct, closed-ended questions that leave less doubt that your potential worker has what it takes to successfully do the job.

Preparation is also key because when you send contractors into a customer’s office or even the field, they represent you, even if they don’t work directly for you. You’re often “letting them into the vault” — they may be granted access to sensitive information, data and technology systems, and they must be trusted with all of it. In addition, as with all employees who interface directly with your customers, you need to feel confident that contractors will serve as a positive and trustworthy extension of your brand. If you can achieve this delicate balance, your customer, your contract worker and you will all feel successful.

2. Communicate — and know there’s no such thing as “overcommunication.” From the outset of working with a contractor, you can expect the good, the bad and the ugly. To lessen the chances of the “bad” and “ugly” overshadowing an otherwise good contractor experience, treat communication as job number one. And just as…

…the childhood game of “telephone” typically ends with a poor result, miscommunication, or worse, a lack of communication, can spell disaster for companies who use contractors. Quite simply, communication is critical.

In this sense, you should treat contractors as full-time employees, and here, in particular, the onus is on you. Be available to them at all (reasonable) times, and encourage them to ask questions, which you should respond to quickly. You need to be extra responsive to avoid putting a contractor in a position where they must make a judgment call while on a job. Finally, remember that there will always be variables within a project scope. Expect to need to pivot — and have your contractors pivot as well — to meet customers’ shifting needs and priorities.

3. Set expectations. It’s a challenge, but a surmountable one. So, your contractor has proven to be competent, trustworthy and able to work independently and effectively in a customer’s office or in the field. You want that person to stay, and you face the challenge of keeping them happy. In the era of the millennial worker, you’ve got an additional challenge: trying to make them happy in nontraditional ways. What’s now well known about millennials is that this demographic has set a new standard when it comes to work, values, and lifestyle. The days of taking a job with an eye on salary and benefits are going away; millennials value flexibility and experiences over pay and benefits packages. So, what’s your best chance at keeping contractors, millennials and otherwise, happy? In my experience, it’s all-around expectations.

The first step is to empower the contractor by providing them with every detail about the project and the client you have available. Assume they don’t know anything and take it upon yourself to make sure they feel fully immersed. Second, anticipate issues that may come up unexpectedly and figure out how your contractor should deal with them. Third, don’t put contractors under more scrutiny than you would a full-time employee. If a contractor feels like they’re being viewed as an easily expendable, nameless worker, they’ll likely treat you the same. Loyalty is harder to come by these days, so demonstrate yours first to gain theirs. Millennials in particular value respect and responsibility; give them both.

4. It’s ultimately about keeping your customer happy. At the end of the day, you are on the hook when it comes to making sure your clients are satisfied with the work your contractors and employees have performed. When you bring in contractors, you often face the preconceived notion, fairly or unfairly deserved, that contractors aren’t as dedicated to their work and may leave at a moment’s notice. Issues like absenteeism or chronic lateness to work can mar an otherwise great relationship with your customer.

Transparency is king in nearly all customer relationships, and I believe it’s most critical when it comes to the customer-contractor dynamic. Your customer wants to know that you will quickly handle any and all issues that come…

…up with your contractors, just as you would with full-time employees. A primary advantage of using contract workers is that personnel issues can be handled more quickly and easily than with FTEs, where you typically have to follow a reprimand/ probation/ resolution protocol. If you have other contractors at the ready, it will be easier to bring in a new one.

Indeed, making everyone happy is a delicate balance. By viewing a project first and foremost from the customers’ perspective, communicating to them that successfully completing their project is your number one priority and taking the steps needed to have the right workers in place to meet deadlines, you’re off to the right start. Then you can then focus on hiring the right contractors, providing them the support and respect they need, being transparent with all parties and following through on promises — all the key ingredients for happy workers and customers.

Kevin Flaherty is president and CEO of BLM Technologies, a Minneapolis-based company that offers a range of IT solutions to 10 diverse industries, including financial, health care, government, retail, restaurant and hospitality. The company’s FlexForce division provides access to specialized on-site repair, maintenance and IT services technicians on-demand, anywhere in the United States. Follow Kevin at @BLMTechnology or on LinkedIn.

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