Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Relationship Management III – The Culture of Accommodation

Last week we saw what happens when service providers fail to actively manage client expectations. Client satisfaction suffers, and ultimately the relationship can become at risk.We explored the notion that client expectations are frequently mishandled during the sales cycle, but this week I’d like to talk about how the ongoing relationship is often set up for failure due to what I call the culture of accommodation.
In any administrative environment there is always plenty to be done. Almost daily, individuals can think of better ways to do things, can find problems that need fixing, can see technology they want deployed. It is a constant source of projects which can provide a handsome revenue stream for the service provider.

Clients barrage their service providers with constant requests for change. So many times without regard for the reasonableness, appropriateness or utility of the request, vendors will agree to provide the changes; often agreeing to things they have no capability or capacity to provide. To make matters worse, the vendors themselves provide the timeline in which the changes will be completed, and miss the deadlines. (We will talk about project management next week).

In the world of administrative services, it often seems the guiding principle is the retail-oriented “the customer is always right.” Any professional consultant will tell you that the customer is most assuredly not always right. In reality, the reason they hired you is because they frequently don’t know, and don’t have a hope of getting it right on their own. A consultant will tell you that their first job is to protect the client, and make them look great!

How has this gone so terribly wrong in the administrative services area? How have vendors moved to the model in which the “customer is always right?” Why do they have the “yes” mentality, the desire to please, and the “culture of accommodation?”

I would submit that it is a result of the commoditization of administrative services. Vendor or client – whose fault is it? Both are at fault for this. Clients say they look to the service provider to provide knowledge, advice, best practices, risk management etc., and yet balk when service providers push back against a service request.

Service providers boast about providing specialized expertise, yet become order takers to the requests, outlandish as they might be without asking the simple question – “Why?”

As in why do you want to make this change? What are your goals? Is there a better way to accomplish this?

Service providers believe that the more they give to the clients, the more complicated the administrative environment becomes and the harder it will become for the clients to make a change. They believe that the clients become, in essence, “captive.” The reality differs, of course. The very act of agreeing to everything heightens the risk of failure and undermines effective risk management. It provides reason for the churning of service providers from one to the next in search of quality service (all the while, pounding on fees.)

Recognize this cycle, and you can become a more effective partner. You can break the commodity mentality and the culture of accommodation. Service levels will improve, satisfaction will increase, and everyone will benefit.

Believe it or not, it can happen!

About the authorDonald Glade is President and Founder of Sourcing Analytics, Inc., an independent consulting firm specializing in helping companies optimize their HR / benefits / payroll service partnerships through relationship management, financial analysis, and process improvement.

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