This is the third post in a series on The Art of Vendor Escalation Management. If you have not yet done so, I recommend going back and reading this and this first. It’ll fill you in on some key fundamentals, and also help avoid questions like “Who the heck is this Mel guy?” and “ValueFlow Industries?! What the heck is that?”
This week I’m going to discuss how having limited power when dealing with vendors affects you when you’re trying to escalate an important issue around a vendor service gone wrong. To do this, we’ll start off with a couple interesting examples from my peculiar and varied past.
Years ago, I was a nanny (yes… I really was a nanny) for two young boys. Early on, I experienced - shall we say - some “behavioral challenges” with the fine young lads. To address this snarly problem, I employed a behavioral modification trick that I am extremely happy that my mother realized could be so effective. Simply stated, if the tot in question was being “bad,” I’d make that individual sit in a chair… in the corner of the dining room… and stare at a clock… for thirty minutes.
My mom pulled this on me once, and - thankfully - only once. Trust me when I say this… when you’re eight years old, thirty individual minutes of watching sixty individual seconds tick by might as well be thirty individual eternities all lined up in a row.
The kids shaped up in a matter of weeks.
The funny thing about this, however, is that if either of those kids had ever latched onto the fact that I had no actual way to make them do this, my little trick would have utterly failed. But I never asked them to do anything unreasonable or over the top, so it never occurred to them that they should question it. Had I asked them to run fifty laps around the house while carrying a paisley recliner, I suspect they might have caught on. Without knowing it at the time, I had understood my limited power in that particular situation and did not push beyond it.
Some years later - a bit older, yet clearly not wiser - I was upset with a leading cellular provider for forcing me to pay ridiculous prices for what I felt was relatively poor service. I stormed into a local retail store of theirs and made my demands. I still remember the slightly amused expression on the woman’s face when she basically responded with, “Yeah? Um. Well… you’re more than welcome to… um… leave?” There were all kinds of empathy issues here, as well, but the core problem with my approach was that I had absolutely no power in this “negotiation.” Sure, I suppose could have taken her advice and voted with my dollars… taken my business elsewhere… but it was made abundantly clear to me that the $30 Billion annual revenue company wasn’t going to be up all night worrying about losing my $100 a month. In this case, I didn’t understand my ridiculously limited power, and I pushed well beyond it. Laughably. It is, to this day, one of those moments in my young life that I look back upon… and cringe. And then laugh at. And then cringe a little more.
Strength of your position
Putting this into more direct terms, and in relation to our topic of managing vendor escalations, you really just have to stop and consider the strength of your position before you even pick up the phone, because that strength (or lack of it) is going to dictate nearly every element of every conversation you are about to have. This is exactly where you are in every service escalation situation. From grumpy old Mel behind the counter at your local diner, to some of the largest companies in the world (such as our ValueFlow Industries), each and every one of these vendors holds an ace up their sleeve - they can lose patience with your nonsense and simply tell you to take your business somewhere else. And the minute they reach that point, you’re kinda done, because they’ve decided that they’re done with you. So you have to be careful with it. Know the cards in your hand before you walk up to the table… and do your best not to break into Kenny Rogers tunes when you do.
Assess the specifics of your situation
Do you work for a massive company that purchases millions of dollars of this service a year from the vendor you are about to escalate to? Or, more to the point, do you represent a significant percentage of the vendor’s business each year? Enough that they would be compelled to listen if you said that you might take your business elsewhere? Or do you happen to have some other element of your business that is strategic to that particular vendor? If so, you can put a bit more strength behind your requests. You can even go as far as saying - in a kind and understanding voice - “Look, we do a lot of business with you. We really need your help on this, and if you are unable to help us then I may need to evaluate other options in the future.”
Conversely, rather than walking into a retail store for a major cellular provider, whining about their prices and calling them “big meanies,” you could go in with a big smile and a warm hello, ask the person you’re speaking with about their day, and then - after a nice chat about their pet cat Biffy - explain that you’ve been having a rough time with the bill, and wondered if there might be any options to cut costs a just a wee bit. (Note the much better handling of empathy in here as well.)
And this also dovetails very nicely into our next topic, where the combination of empathy, communication, and the understanding of limited power all tie together to help you Maintain the Moral High Ground (and just not tick people off).
If you're interested in talking more about the business of IT management, feel free to contact me here.