The Decision is Made to Outsource – Now What?
Virtual classroom producers allow your training team to access the specialized knowledge needed for successful virtual learning. Before any sessions begin, you can benefit from their expert guidance on how best to tailor design elements and reduce potential risks associated with delivery. During each session, their focus is providing participants an engaging experience through quality audio/video streaming as well as assisting facilitators in delivering content effectively. By working with a producer on your training team, you can ensure learners have optimized outcomes.
If you and/or your organization have made the decision to outsource some or all of your virtual training production [Read: Build or Buy? Virtual Classroom Production & Hosting], you are now left with the unenviable task of selecting a service provider. You (as a Buyer) are rather spoiled for choice - the playing field has gotten very crowded in the last three years – but here are some key characteristics you should look for in selecting a Service Provider.
7 things you need to consider when selecting Virtual Training Production Provider
Many of the characteristics I’ll detail are not exclusive in any way to virtual training, but my goal is to illustrate what those characteristics (or lack of them) will look like in the virtual training domain.
- Price – Most buyers in the marketplace look at the cost first – and with good reason. The vendor you select should fit within your budget for delivery but be wary of using price as the only important characteristic. Be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Are you getting the same level of service from each vendor? You can ensure you are getting an appropriate price by knowing exactly what type of services you need. Have a good implementation plan (more on that later) with solid scheduling and coordination processes, meaningful measures for service levels (data collection, language support, preparation expectations with Facilitator, etc.) and well-documented instructional materials. When engaging with a Service Provider for pricing, communicate these to the service provider to get accurate pricing for services required.
ASK: Outside of supporting the actual session, what EXACTLY is included in the price? Scheduling, project management, 3rd party tools, rehearsals?
- Experience – I had a good friend in college who slavishly read Fortune magazine to determine what business he wanted to start when he graduated. My take was that if the business is listed as “something to get into” in Fortune, it was already a lost cause because everyone is reading the same article. Early in the pandemic, a lot of training service vendors read about virtual training production and delivery (maybe not in Fortune, but you get the idea). Your goal in selecting a services provider is finding an organization with depth of experience – virtual training shouldn’t be something “they do as well” but rather should be one of (or the only) principal focus of the Service Provider. Be skeptical of service providers that focus on many things in their offerings, articulating excellence in all. In our experience, a focus on one domain of training permeates the organizational team. For example, here at InSync, we’re a virtual only shop and have been for more than two decades (we did not just jump into the pool when the world shut down) – our team is practiced and very comfortable interacting virtually because that’s how they do their job every day. If virtual training is not at the top of the priority list at the Service Provider, you may experience less-than-optimal service support.
ASK: How long as the organization been supporting virtual events? What is the average tenure of producers and how are they trained?
- Depth of Service Support – Often referred to as “depth of bench”, this is a measure of the Service Provider’s ability to staff and work-up a team to support your needs across whatever variables your training services require (region/timezone, frequency, language, platform, etc.). Many virtual training service providers are fairly lean in this regard, so consider the requirements of your virtual training sessions now and in the future and make sure that your virtual classroom service provider is able to provide the scalability you need for virtual classes with more complex needs.
ASK: What is the ability to support different platforms, languages, and time zones?
- Breadth of Service Support – Similar to Depth of Service Support, Service Breadth is all about what the Service Provider can do for you within the virtual classroom in the production role. For example, foreign language support (is it regionalized – French in Montreal is not French in France, and many participants care). Third party tools? Polling? Breakouts? Software integration for demos or practical exercises? Variable virtual classroom platforms? LMS reporting? Project Management for scheduling and resourcing? The list is extensive, and you should be able to ask your prospective Service Provider for guidance and support across these requirements. A key element of virtual training support is the capacity of the Producer to support requirements and follow the lead from the Facilitator seamlessly to optimize the instructional experience during delivery for the learners. This capability only comes from experience and practice across a wide range of virtual classroom platforms and instructional treatments. Beware the “we only support Zoom” one-trick-pony.
ASK: What services are available outside of the initial engagement requirements?
- Need for more than just “Tech Support” - A program where the producer has the ability to help engage learners and even has some potential subject matter familiarity can transform the learning experience. In these cases, the ‘Instructional Producer’ is truly a partner to the Facilitator. In addition to supporting the virtual classroom technology and managing logistics, the Instructional Producer is also the learner advocate, a co-instructor, and has responsibility not just for the quality of the production, but the quality of the instruction.
ASK: Outside of managing technology, how can the producers be utilized during the session?
- Reliability – Being there when you are supposed to be is essential for virtual training. A session that isn’t opened on time generally means it loses that time with participants – people will leave a virtual classroom session at its scheduled end time, because they likely have another commitment (a strength of virtual delivery is sequential work with little interruption). A service provider should provide a reliable virtual services offering with error rates less than 0.1% (I’m really not kidding). InSync averages around 6,000 hours of virtual training production every month, and it is exceedingly rare (once every few months) for one of our team to miss a scheduled session, and in those cases, we have developed processes to catch the issue before the actual start time and get the session opened by an alternate (good example of Depth). Your organization is convening training to address some requirement with an underlying business need – a failure of your service provider to convene training on time reliably is a failure to meet that need.
ASK: What’s the back up plan in case of illness or other emergencies, and how are problems managed in the moment?
- Processes – OK, OK, I get it – this is where many people will put the sleep mask on for a quick nap, but it bears noting. Defined, documented, and reliable processes tailored to your needs for scheduling and resourcing are a hallmark of a proven virtual training service provider. Coordination across multiple time zones during the weeks of daylight savings changes, in several languages, on multiple platforms is NOT something accomplished with an Excel spreadsheet and a couple of e-mails. The service provider should be able to take your session needs in any format and provide you with a “repeat back” of those requirements in a consistent, accessible format; with identified experienced personnel in very short order (a day or two, depending on the scope of what you’re asking for). As a Buyer, you should have as much insight into the team resourced as you require (background checks, CVs, etc.) and the same team of personnel should be one who consistently supports your sessions – if any of these are missing from your prospective Service Provider offering, look harder.
ASK: Is there a checklist or ‘run-of-show’ that is followed? What’s on that list?
How to Go About Onboarding Your New Partner
Once you’ve selected a service provider to support your virtual training production needs, the next steps may be largely dictated by your procurement process, but here are some additional things to think about to mitigate risk as you roll out your virtual delivery program.
- Observe a Service Provider Delivery – If the service provider you’ve selected supports public (read “non-proprietary”) sessions, ask to attend a session to observe the delivery and the instructional experience. If proprietary issues preclude an observed session, review the CVs of the production team and evaluate their experience with respect to different virtual learning strategies for various learner populations (sales, technical, management, etc.) and subject areas in addressing specific needs of learners.
- Provide Sample Materials – With suitable contractual protections in place, provide the service provider with the instructional materials for a typical session that they’ll be supporting and ask for their insights. In particular, ask about potential challenges in the instructional delivery and any recommendations they have for enhancing the delivery – you’re not looking for free instructional design here, but rather asking them how they’d make the delivery as good as it can be. The quality of the feedback you receive will be a good indicator of the service provider’s experience in preparing their team to support your need.
- Start Small – If operational constraints permit, engage with the service provider on a smaller scale first, for a short period of performance (a month or quarter at the longest) and make notes about how things are working out. While you’ll be unable to explicitly determine overall capacity, seeing how the service provider operates is invaluable in determining if they’re a good long-term fit. It is worth noting that once you’ve selected a service provider for “the long haul”, they’ll develop in-house expertise on your specific needs and practices that will make the support services more tailored and unique to your organization.
- Develop Measures/KPI and Service Level Agreements – Your procurement department may request a set of measures to develop Service Level Agreements with the Service Provider. SLAs set a benchmark for expectations on how services will be provided to your company, and they are critically important for successful virtual delivery, whether they’re written into a contract or not. When developing these measures (sometimes called KPIs – “Key Performance Indicators”), focus on measurable easy-to-collect data that directly impacts the quality of instructional delivery and is attributable to the Service Provider’s services. Some examples include: time to schedule, response time, resource allocation, time to start, reporting requirements, participant drop-off, participant affective response data related to the producer, facilitator feedback, etc.
How to get started
As I noted in my last blog [Read: Build or Buy? Virtual Classroom Production & Hosting], once you’ve made the decision to outsource virtual production needs to a dedicated team of professionals, your training organization can focus on other aspects of the training mandate to enhance the business outcomes of your training. Working with an established and professional virtual classroom production partner reduces risk and gives you access to a broad experience base in virtual instruction – the key is to find the right Service Provider.
Here at InSync Training we are confident that we have teams who deliver exceptional service with every program. So if you are considering outsourcing virtual classroom production talk to us or click here for more information about our services.