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Being The Good Service Provider

by: Dærick Gröss, September 2005

In my last article, I went over some of the broader points to being a good client in the client-vendor relationship. It's time we look at the other side of that coin and review the behavior of a good service provider and what a client should expect in any such relationship.

Independent service providers (outsourcing agencies, contractors, vendors, internal service departments, etc.) must be aware of their own role in terms of a project's expectations, and not simply focus only on the end result or deliverable. The goal is important, but without cultivating an environment of respect, faith, and trust the relationship will not survive and the life of the project falls into jeopardy.

Fulfill your contract

Good vendors finish the job. The cornerstone of any agreement is the actual contract. Everything boils down to what is agreed upon in writing, and every facet of the relationship should be touched on here. A good service provider will ensure that every expectation of the contract has been satisfactorily delivered upon, leaving nothing incomplete or missing. Obviously circumstance will sometimes occur that may affect this, but maintaining a good relationship with excellent communication and the use of an appended contract revision should cover those rare times when a contract point is simply impossible to fulfill. The bottom line when it comes to contracts is service providers should never leave loose ends. Legal arguments aside, your reputation is on the line.

Communicate regularly

Good vendors establish regular and reliable communication. Every project is different, as such the methods and particulars of communication will vary, but despite this a good service provider will arrange for some form of communication. Clients need to be kept informed of their project's status, and in fact deserve to know how they are being serviced. Communication allows for more than simple updates, it is an excellent tool for building rapport in the relationship and also for controlling expectations. Good communication flow also increases the opportunity for continued relations after the project ends, thereby building client loyalty and retention.

Be timely with deliverables

Good vendors meet deadlines. Missing promised delivery dates is one of the fastest ways to damage the working relationship with a client. Credibility issues are extremely difficult to overcome, and when confidence is lost it becomes a struggle to regain it throughout the rest of the project's life. Deadlines can also affect your firm's reputation as a whole. Good communication and a strong rapport may help overcome delivery problems, but why put that risk out there to begin with? Don't promise what you cannot do, and give yourself allowance for problems to arise. Stay reasonable with your time estimates, and work diligently to meet the stated goals. Good service providers consider themselves to be professional, and professional firms meet deadlines.

Be approachable

Good vendors can be reached when there are questions or concerns. Every service agency has stories of a client or two who abuses this availability, but that is a minor issue when compared to the alternative. Clients who cannot reach a vendor or are made to jump through hoops just to communicate become frustrated, and the relationship suffers. It takes a certain measure of trust to approach an outside agency to handle a project, sometimes one that is desperately needed, and that trust is tested when the client is unable to ask questions or find out the status of things. Good service providers foster the sense of trust by working openly, allowing the client to ask questions and see how things are developing. A certain measure of control is acceptable, but the more communication is restricted, the more satisfaction and trust are tested.

Price fairly

Good vendors do not arbitrarily price their services. Certainly every business exists to make money, and that is an important part of every contract. What service providers need to remember is not to abuse clients by way of pricing. Some clients come with deeper pockets than others, but good service providers price evenly by the service, not by the client. It is just as important not to under-price yourself, and a good client would not expect or ask that to happen. The bottom line here is to be consistent with your fee and avoid arbitrary fluctuations. This should be the least negotiated aspect of any contract.

Mind your manners

Good vendors behave professionally. Sometimes clients will become demanding or act in a 'bossy' kind of way. Good service providers react in an appropriate manner, and recognize that this is a normal occurrence that may even be fed by their own behavior. Indignant responses and antagonistic attitudes are, of course, unacceptable behavior but a good vendor will also avoid the opposite extreme of catering to every out-of-scope whim of a client just because they are paying customers. Professional behavior means being able to speak and act in a respectful and courteous tone, even when saying "no".

Service providers should see themselves as a partner agency, an extension of their clients. Future growth and development depends on how clients are serviced today. No matter how good the client base is, there will always be difficult relationships to manage, volatile personalities, and impossible expectations. Good vendors are able to see past difficult issues and look at the bigger picture, and they are able to work with their clients' idiosyncrasies respectfully and still deliver on time and in a professional manner.