I am going to rant to about a vendor experience I am having currently. It reminds me of how we try not to do business here at SageRock.
I have worked with this business services vendor for 10 years. I am a loyal customer. I was, for about 5 years, a happy customer. Then we started growing apart. And, like a jilted girlfriend, I believe it is all their fault. But, in reality, as my company grew in experience and size, I realized that we were not well matched, and we did not share common values. That said, there were key mistakes made in communication as well. We should all try to heed these 5 guidelines in customer relations to ensure better service:
1) Understand what your customer does.
Since the start, our project manager from my vendor’s firm believed that SageRock designed web sites. In 1999, I forgave them that because what we did was confusing and new. 10 years on, and one day after SageRock won a “Best Use of Social Media” award from NEOSA, that same Project Manager told me (with no knowledge of our recent recognition) that his company was starting to hear about this “social online stuff” and that a “gal” at his office was going to start looking into it. This lack of knowledge on their part was not just annoying, it actually cost us quite a bit of money in 2007 due to a mistake the firm made based on their insufficient grasp on our industry. Which leads me to . . .
2) Know and address your weaknesses as a vendor.
It’s OK not to know everything. And it was actually OK that our 50-something Project Manager didn’t understand social media. What was not OK, was keeping him on our account after we suggested that someone else at the firm might be a better fit.
Understand that different people at your company represent you differently. At SageRock, if a client tells us they are not having a great experience, we give them new people to work with and have large internal meetings to flush out what is falling short where and why. If you take the blame off the table and think of it in personal relationship terms, it’s easier to see how to make improvements and keep the relationship healthy.
3) Consider the client’s values and needs.
There are clients that want to know everything you’re doing at all times and want updated about it weekly. There are clients that figure no news is good news and never email / call you back when you have questions. There are clients that love email and let all calls go to voice mail and clients that answer emails with phone calls. Good vendors can adapt how they do business to meet the client where they comfortably stand. Good vendors can assign internal people to projects and accounts that that match their styles and values. And really good vendors don’t take on clients they can’t service well.
In my recent case, I needed A LOT of hand holding from my vendor. I was a PITA (Pain In The Ass) client. BUT (and this is a big but) I was willing to pay ANY amount for the help I needed. In the end, I had to bring in an additional vendor to meet my needs. And when I did that, my existing vendor was surprised and offended that I had not used them for the services I had hired out. But I had asked and inquired about this current vendor doing the work. In fact, I at one point almost begged to have those services, but inquiries went unanswered. They just didn’t understand my values and couldn’t match my high-needs style.
4) Play nice with others.
After I did bring in a complimentary vendor, my old vendor couldn’t set aside their grudge. Even though tasks were separated nicely, working with someone else was not something they were willing to do and they spent a lot of time grumbling to me, the client, about how this “wasn’t working” for them.
At SageRock, we will work with anyone that gives value to the client. We have worked with other SEM firms ( they did Paid and we did SEO, and often vise versa), we work regularly with web design firms, usability agencies, large marketing houses, etc. Good business isn’t about the vendor’s ego. It’s about the client and should always be about what best serves the client.
5) Don’t make personal assumptions
As a final note, I will get personal. Our project manager assumed my male business partner made the financial decisions at our company and even though I was the one emailing and calling, he always initiated calls with my partner, not me. Perhaps he didn’t like me (I was high needs after all). But he should have been able to set those prejudices aside in order to do good business. He wasn’t charming my partner either, and assumed he was a conservative republican like himself — spending valuable time talking politics instead of asking important business questions. Even if you think you and your client have a lot in common — both business owners, both parents, both men or women — don’t just believe you’re essentially the same. People are different. Listen to them and learn about who they are and what they need.