Be a Staffing Partner, Not Provider

It seems that we’re missing the boat a bit when it comes to client service. Client satisfaction among staffing firms was in decline for the fourth straight year in 2013, according to Inavero's “Best of” competitions for exceptional service. Even more disconcerting is that the number of clients who don’t view their staffing firm as a strategic partner is up by 50 percent. But I feel these are fairly easy fixes — what can I say, I’m optimistic about this topic.

It’s intuitive to think that any robust relationship should be a two-way street, each party seeking collaboration and providing honest communication for the betterment of the partnership. Clients expect this from their staffing providers as they do any business relationship. So while outsourcing specialty areas of the business to experts can be efficient and cost-effective, there is quite a difference between a client needing your services and one wanting to partner with you.

Having a relationship that is at a higher level and being seen as a strategic partner requires more in the way of subject matter leadership. Whether the client initially realizes it or not, the relationship deserves more than a “jump/how high?” association. I like this point from author and business strategist Daniel Rasmus, who wrote: “Thought leadership should intrigue, challenge and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.”

While saying something like, “We are different because we are more than just a staffing provider” may be true and something every person in your organization believes, leading a new business conversation with this is ineffective and likely to speed your exit to the door. Instead, demonstrate your points of differentiation through actions, not just words. (There’s a reason the phrase “actions speak louder than words” has been around since the 1600s.)

Here is an idea for your initial encounter: Offer suggestions to the potential client for how to assess its staffing partner choices, yours among them. Perhaps this company may not know what to look for when outsourcing staffing or how to differentiate its options and would welcome your insight. This also allows you to truly vet this business opportunity for your firm. Take this approach with true altruism to collaborate on what is best for the client, otherwise it’s just a smarmy tactic.

Here’s another idea: Research the potential client’s business successes and challenges and come to the table with ideas on how strategic staffing can support and resolve those. Consider their needs; don’t just discuss your services, but rather ask yourself how your services can meet those needs. This is not about a template PowerPoint, it’s a constructive conversation.

If a staffing firm settles into a subservient role with a client, then neither party is maximizing the opportunities that are self-evident within a dynamic relationship. Spend time, even before contracts are signed, to focus on setting the right tone for interaction and expectations. The long-term benefits are well worth the up-front time. I welcome your thoughts and feedback.