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The Surprising Complexities of Communication in Vendor Escalations

by Chris Russo | Feb 12, 2019 | | 0 comments

In this second post in a series on the The Art of Vendor Escalation Management, I will be focusing on critical aspects of communication. You might be saying to yourself, “Well, of course communication is critical. That’s obvious!” And I would tend to agree with you. However, I have been occasionally surprised by gaps in a person’s understanding of all the nuances of communication during these critical and specialized escalation incidents, and so my hope is to discuss the various layers in the communication cake and fill in those gaps with deliciousness. (Sorry… someone brought a cake in to the office and I think its siren call from the kitchen is starting to affect my mind.)

communication in vendor relationships

Sharing the Core Details

First, and most simply, is the matter of communicating effectively about what has gone wrong. Most vendors you are going to interact with are likely to have a script to follow to get the information that they need to solve your problem, so generally this is not a huge issue, but it’s worth noting that Mel (the owner of your local diner) likely hasn’t worked one of these out for his restaurant, so it’s worth a quick list of things to be sure you share with him, just in case:

  • Your ticket number (or order number) if you have one already.
  • Is this your first attempt to address the issue, or one of many? (Sometimes vendors will open multiple tickets over the same issue, so you need to make sure they know about them.)
  • What you have done to address the issue so far, and any results (One would hope an existing ticket will have this information, but often that is not the case… for bonus points, use empathy and ask yourself why this is so.)

Sharing the Measurable Business Impact

Second is a collection of information intended to give the person on the other end of the line a bit more awareness of the severity of your situation. Keep in mind, this person takes calls all day from people in situations like yours, and many of these people use words like “critical” and “emergency” as if they were flinging pennies into a fountain. These words eventually become meaningless, and so you must take a different approach.

  • Describe the actual impact of this problem on you and your business. How many of your users are affected? Is it a total outage or a partial one? Is it a complete outage for those affected or is it a service degradation? Describe how bad the degradation is in meaningful and quantifiable terms, such as “an operation that took a few seconds, now takes an hour,” etc.
  • Is there a customer or financial impact? Share those details in real numbers. You may be losing thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a minute - perhaps even more - and that is an easily quantifiable figure that can add a level of urgency to this (and many other) discussions.

As a side-note, if you do not have or understand the financial details of the way your business operates, you absolutely need to address that… right now. This information is critical for you in so many ways. So, stop reading this and go find out. (Then come back. I have a lot more to share!)

Sharing the Personal Impact

Finally, we get into the some of the fluffy stuff that most people won’t think of. They may seem a little weird, but these are the things that, when communicated, may get the person you are speaking with to empathize with you just a little bit more:

  • What is your personal state on this issue? How are you feeling about this? Is management involved? Do they have steam coming out of their ears? What is the actual impact to you?
  • Ask for help. (In other words, literally and actually say the words… “Can you please help?”)

Remember in our previous post we talked about empathy, but specifically what we talked about is empathy for the person you are speaking to in your efforts to try to get this service back on the rails. However, what you also very much need and want is for the person on the other end of the phone to have empathy for you. Remember that the support people… are people. And if you’re being understanding of their situation and nice to them, then they’re likely to want to be understanding of your situation as well. And if you don’t tell them about your situation, then you’re not giving them the chance. Most people genuinely like helping others, but sometimes folks get so lost in their day-to-day struggles. The way to break this barrier down, is simply to share.

And I’m serious when I say you need to specifically ask for help. It’s weird, but such a simple thing as “Can you help me?” is extremely powerful. In those simple words you are exposing yourself just a little bit, and - I think - in a way that every human being on Earth deeply understands, because we have all had times in our life where we just needed a little help, and it is in those times that any help given was desperately appreciated.

Next time we will discuss the critical element of understanding the Position of Limited Power when dealing with critical support escalation situations.

If you're interested in talking more about the business of IT management, feel free to contact me here.

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