Shortlisting an external provider for any service is difficult.

But when that service is going to be promoted to every one of your colleagues, and used as a frontline risk prevention tool, it can become especially daunting.

It’s likely you’ll only undertake this process once, so you’ll want to get it right. We hope this guide provides some useful tips in helping you shortlist providers, and discounting those that may not meet your needs.

Define what you’re looking for

The obvious starting point for this task is to define your organisation’s need.

The fact you’re reading this article suggests you understand the type of solution you’re looking for – but it is always worth revisiting your key requirements at the outset.

Your brief doesn’t necessarily have to be detailed at this stage, but you should be able to clearly articulate the problem you’re trying to solve and the basic features your service should include.

For example:

  • Do you want to gain intelligence about any type of wrongdoing, or just specific areas like fraud or loss prevention?
  • If you have an international presence, do you want a multilingual service?

Thinking about your needs upfront will make it easier to rule in – or rule out – potential providers early on in the process.

As part of this process, you may want to prepare a list of questions to ask potential providers. They should be aimed at finding out more about the providers’ processes, approach and security measures, whilst also trying to find out if they can tailor the hotline to your needs.

Look for reputable whistleblowing hotline providers

When you’ve decided on the features your solution might require, it’s time to start researching the market.

You can use a number of approaches to identify possible providers – these are a few of the most popular.

Peer recommendations (word of mouth)

As with any important buying decision, a great starting place is to speak to people who’ve recently made a similar purchase.

This might be challenging when it comes to something as niche as a whistleblowing service, but your professional network could be invaluable.

Ask former colleagues, managers and industry acquaintances if they can recommend providers for the type of service you’re looking for.

In most cases they won’t have recently contracted with a provider – but they may have a similar service in place within their organisation.

Find out who they use and ask them what they know about the provider and their service.
Research suggests that 91% of business-to-business (B2B) purchasers found their buying decisions influenced by word-of-mouth.

Even if you don’t place value on the subjective feedback you might receive, it can be the fastest way to obtain the names of a few providers.

Events

Professional and industry events can be a great way to make connections and keep up with the changing landscape.

Use these opportunities to discuss the challenges your company is facing – it’s more than likely that you’ll find people who’ve faced similar issues.

If you do, remember to ask whether their solution met their original need (and whether they would do things differently next time).

If you can’t find people facing comparable challenges, ask for introductions to people within their organisation who may be able to help.

Outsourced whistleblowing services have become commonplace over recent years – particularly among large corporates and within regulated sectors – so you’re likely to gain some useful knowledge from those around you.

Online search

Online is the starting point for the majority of B2B purchases (in 2014, 94% of B2B buyers said they conduct online research before buying).

But before you begin, make sure you know the search terms (or ‘keywords’) that are likely to return the information you’re seeking.

For example, if you’re purely looking for an outsourced hotline service, you will likely get relevant results using the terms ‘whistleblowing hotline’, ‘ethics line’, ‘compliance line’ or ‘speak up’ coupled with ‘provider’, ‘service’ or ‘solution’.

If you’re looking for a provider that offers a software element too (to support the logging and processing of your reports), you may find the terms above coupled with ‘case management’, or ‘software’ return more relevant results.

The differing terms are often used to differentiate one provider from another in terms of its approach or philosophy, even though the competing services share similar tools, software and outputs.

NOTE: Services labelled as ‘helplines’ or ‘advice lines’ imply that legally-qualified advice is available to reporters. Clarify this point with the provider to avoid any confusion.

Understand the core service

Once you have come up with a list of potential providers, you’ll need to look more closely at the specific services on offer and the differences between them.

The fastest way to do this will be to visit their website.

What’s the difference?

Broadly speaking, all ‘whistleblowing hotlines’, ‘speak up hotlines’ and ‘ethics helplines’ serve the same purpose: to facilitate the sharing of sensitive disclosures between an individual (usually an employee) and an organisation.

The key differences will relate to things like:

  • Approach
  • Process
  • Technology
  • Regional expertise
  • Additional (or complementary) services

Approach

Look for clues about how the provider approaches the reporting process, and consider whether it matches your requirements.

For instance, giving your employees confidence and reassurance might be your overriding goal. If it is, you might prioritise providers with multiple reporting channels and a whistleblower-focussed service.

Process

The providers’ standard processes are also likely to differ slightly – both in the way reports are captured and processed, and in how they are shared with your organisation.

Look for details on both of these points.

You may also find that some providers will allow you to tailor elements of these processes, while others will have limited flexibility.

Technology

The technology behind the reporting process and case management services will differ between providers.

Try to find signs that the technology offers security, ease of use and customisation options.

You will be able to take a closer look at the systems on offer by requesting a demonstration from the provider.

Regional expertise

Most hotline providers will offer an international service, but it’s likely that each will have greater experience in certain countries (and therefore the laws, restrictions and customs of those regions).

Consider each providers’ headquartered location in creating your shortlist, and their likely ability to offer the regional expertise you require.

If this is unclear, a ‘who we work with’ section on their website (or similar) should offer some clues.

Hotline as a core or additional service

In addition to a whistleblowing hotline solution, most providers offer other complementary services, such as case management software, training or policy management.

You may find that in some cases, the hotline itself isn’t a core service, but rather an ‘add-on’ to a different product (eg. software). If this is the case, make sure the hotline solution offers the features, customisation options and security you’re looking for.

Next steps

Once you’ve put together your shortlist, you’ll be ready to engage providers to provide details, product demonstrations and costs.

Before you do, make sure you have the work out exactly what you want to ask the provider, this will ensure you get only what you need.

Discover the 29 questions you need to ask hotline service providers