How do we efficiently use an agent network that is vital for our business but fragmented into many pieces? Larissa Best has some suggestions.
Whether you are a big international company or a small law fi m, everybody in the industry faces the same challenge: how do we efficiently use an agent network that is vital for our business but fragmented into many pieces? Larissa Best has some suggestions.
We all enjoy international conferences where you finally meet in person the people you have been working with over the year, or reconnect with attorneys to get the latest updates.
There are so many opportunities to meet, mingle, talk and update. But when we return to our ordinary lives in the office, we also get back to micromanaging the different assignments we have given to our colleagues around the world. How do we keep up to date with the newsletters and other information about matters, deadlines and holidays that have changed or have been updated?
Then there are the deadlines we have given for the work our agents help us to do around the world. And there is the little question at the back of your mind asking: do we have the best possible agent for the money we are paying and the industry we work in?
Here are some tips that might help with the daily challenges you are facing. Quality and price You will probably place yourself in one of the following two categories when it comes to pricing:
• My clients and I are flexible when it comes to pricing and do not mind not knowing the fi nal price beforehand; or
• My clients and I are price-sensitive and we would like to know how much the service costs in advance.
If you are in the first category, you still want to make sure that you get the best quality of work from your agent. If you are in the second category, you want the best of both worlds: quality and prearranged fees.
You can assure yourself of the quality standards through several means. The agent:
• Has a good reputation;
• Has been recommended by colleagues;
• Has worked with you successfully before; and
• Adheres to your quality standards.
If you can tick the fi rst three points, you have already done part of your homework, but you still do not know whether you are getting the quality you should be expecting. That is why it makes sense to consider what is important to you when it comes to working together in the future.
A questionnaire will help you fi nd out what individual agents are off ering. It does not have to be complicated or go into too much detail but it should help you fi nd somebody thatadheres to the same, or similar, main principles as you do.
Questions for the agent:
• Do you adhere to given deadlines?
• If you cannot meet a deadline, when will you let me know? Immediately, the day before, two weeks after?
• Will I have a specific person handling my work?
• Do you have a specific internal procedure for the work I am requesting?
• Do you have any recommendations I can see or clients I can contact?
• Do you work for my major competitor?
You can go as deep or broad as you need to, the sky is the limit. However you should make sure that any questions you ask are clearly understandable and preferably can be answered by a simple yes or no. Th is is especially important if you are trying to compare Agent A to Agent B.
One tip here is to concentrate on the essentials—if your questionnaire is too long, your business will have to be perceived as extremely valuable to the agent to warrant such detailed responses; and the longer the questionnaire, the more complex it will be and the less a clear picture of the agent is likely to emerge.
Here technology plays an integral part. You have several options depending on how tech-savvy you are. You can use Word or Excel, which have the benefi ts of being simple to use and that everyone can open the documents.
However, anyone can also alter the documents in any way they want. Excel can be protected to some degree but becomes cumbersome to use if you want to include more complicated features such as ‘If you answered yes here, now answer this other question there’.
Free-to-use survey models can be found on the Internet at sites such as www.surveymonkey.com. Th ese are easy to use and allow you to check if everyone has fi lled in the questionnaire and then export the answers into Excel later.
I have opted for a hybrid model which is also easy to use and exportable as well as being user-friendly: portable document format (PDF). This is a familiar format from when we save a Word document as a PDF to make it permanent and easily emailed or posted on the Internet. However, you can use it for much more.
You need only a small investment in Adobe Pro (instead of the free Adobe Reader) and you are ready to go. Th e module that is automatically installed is called Livecycle and will help you build questionnaires very easily. You can then create PDFs to send out to your potential agents and the results are saved in your email inbox. These are then exportable into Excel.
The great thing about this option is that you can be creative with your questions while sending out a simple PDF, which is a standard format in the industry and can be saved locally on the agent’s computer.
The results are visible in a module that will show you the agents who have not yet sent back the questionnaire (and send an automated email message to all the missing agents) and you can choose which questionnaires you wish to export together into a spreadsheet. Year-on-year comparison is simplified that way.
The same concept applies for pricing, for example if you wish to receive clear indications for prices for a project or a year.
The information we obtain from agents is valuable and should be used in a more structured way; doing this effi ciently will continue to be a challenge.
Larissa Best is director of strategic relations and marketing at Avantiq. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was first published on 01 December 2012 in World IP Review
agent netowork, technology, questionnaires