Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes
This is a well known admonition used to remind people that we cannot judge each other without living their experiences. Unfortunately this isn’t always enough. Cognitive Bias works against us, unless we are aware of what we are doing. We automatically disassociate anything happening externally around us from any of our experiences that are happening directly to us, and have to specifically recognize that, when its happening, so we can try to prevent it. Let’s not beat around the bush, and jump right into a perfect example.
The way we as customers handle our vendors is in direct opposition to how we as vendors want to be handled by our customers.
It is probably unfair to say this blanketly without making some exceptions, so I’ll allow that this isn’t true in some cases and leave it up to your own judgement, however before excusing yourself I would ask that you stop and consider future interactions with both your customers and vendors and just be aware so that you can fight the Cognitive Bias and improve.
Let’s start off with setting a small but reasonable expectation. It is unreasonable to expect that a vendor of ours would be able to perform at a level greater than our own, given all other playing fields were equal. For example, if we in our chosen field of industry can only provide in our most optimal conditions a 4 hour response period to a customer service question, then we should not expect our vendors to be able to provide less than that within their chosen field of industry. I’m not saying it cannot happen, I’m saying its unreasonable for us to expect otherwise. If you promise 4 hours and are routinely delivering 8+ then you should or can only expect a similar level of service from your vendors. How is it fair to expect more from others than you yourself can provide? If you do any kind of research on personal expectations within any relationship you’ll find that this is the first step; Do not expect from others what you yourself are unable to deliver.
This is something that can be discussed in advance and agreed upon and any agreements should be upheld. In the event an agreement isn’t able to be upheld then you need to assess (I’ll use this word again) REASONABLY if you’re able to maintain that relationship. Let’s make this scenario slightly more complicated.
Your vendor has a great product and fast response time for requests, however there’s an issue when they release new policies or training the employees (or at least the ones you interact with; support) take awhile for them to learn and follow them resulting in either missed processes or inconsistent experiences. If you have the same problem internally, developing and executing on training and processes then you cannot reasonably expect anyone else you work with to have solved this problem either. You should be able to understand the issues they have with it since you have the same ones. Just like your customers have the same problem dealing with you, therefore you also have the same problems dealing with your vendors.
“This is stupid” you might be thinking “I don’t have an issue doing this, I’m a one man shop and I don’t need processes.”. Unfortunately the world does rely on processes and procedures. Let’s play this exercise out, if you’re a vendor providing a service to one customer (specifically thinking of Managed Services Providers, but really any kind of contracted or external work) and they rely on your business to run their own small business of 20 people or even 5 people. In the event of an emergency where you become unable to operate your business how does your client continue to function? This is not just a question that can be dismissed lightly! This is a standard Risk Assessment question EVERY BUSINESS should be asking.
Risk Assessment 101, identify critical areas where failure can occur and assess risk for those areas. The answer to the hypothetical scenario is absolutely part of the risk assessment your customer will be doing and either they will have a process that involves finding a new company who is less likely to disappear on them, or you will have a process that determines what happens if you disappear. This requires procedures and processes for whoever the backup plan is to continue operations.
Without getting into an entirely different field of Risk Assessments and Compliance and bringing this back to the original subject, if you as a one man shop are having trouble with the processes, or even more so, if you’re not a one man shop and are still having trouble then “reasonably” you would need to allow the vendors you engage with the same amount of time YOU would need to implement at the very least. Obviously if they keep missing expectations and aren’t able to withhold the agreement in the end then it’s time to look elsewhere.
Next time you interact with a vendor and are in a situation where a missed expectation makes you upset or frustrated, consider was this a “reasonable” expectation that you could have met? Are you meeting your own Customer expectations in this regard? Constantly missed expectations that are reasonable means its time for a new assessment on the vendor, but if the expectation isn’t reasonable and you yourself aren’t meeting a similar expectation for your clients, it may be worth communicating with your vendor and seeing if you can set new expectations that are reasonable. Remember, treat your vendors the way you would want to be treated by your customers.