In this year of doing more with less, we’ve all had an earful about outsourcing. And indeed, when faced with the task of providing near-limitless service on a limited budget – for instance, when staffing a 24/7 member call center – it’s hard to think of a better way to accomplish the impossible. The nuts and bolts are simple. For most credit unions, hiring, training and maintaining the staff needed to run a round-the-clock call center simply isn’t cost-effective (or even feasible). Yet, members expect access. Outsourcing to a service like the CO-OP Member Center seems like an easy answer. But often, credit unions overlook key considerations that spell the difference between an adequate vendor relationship and a truly profitable one. Do the math. “First,” says New York-based strategic planning consultant Geri Stengel, president of Ventureneer, “whenever you’re thinking of outsourcing, you should make sure you will reduce costs. You need to go through a thought process.” What are your goals and expectations? What would it cost you to provide this service in-house? Does this service reduce the need for physical branches? What risks are involved in moving operations outside your organization – and how can you mitigate against them? Manage. Hiring an outside vendor doesn’t mean abdicating all responsibility. Make sure the vendor you choose aligns with your style and standards. Be prepared to provide training and pay attention: “It’s critical that there be oversight in the relationship,” says Stengel. “Not only do you want to see statistics on how many calls are processed, but you also want to be able to listen in periodically on conversations to make sure they’re being handled properly and well.” An effective call center will represent your organization as well as your in-house staff can, provided you make it so. Optimize. If you’re going to the trouble of creating a good vendor relationship, go deeper. Call center personnel aren’t limited to taking member calls; they can also make outbound calls to shore up member relationships (especially in this era of fewer branch visits) or cross-sell loans and other services. In this way, your call center goes beyond preserving profits – it also generates revenue. Compete. Working with a vendor you trust can inspire a kind of relaxation. “Ahhh,” you think. “Now I don’t have to worry.” That’s one aspect of successful outsourcing, but it’s not the greatest benefit. Outsourcing can save you money by keeping staff costs low. It also enables you to focus on your core competencies. But ideally, outsourcing also provides flexibility, scalability and access to best-of-breed products and services. These help you compete in an increasingly competitive environment – and that has a value all its own. A great vendor relationship doesn’t take the edge off: It gives you an edge.