Most of the companies I work with have an existing IT Service Provider. Their role is to help support their network and assist in making IT decisions. Coming from that background myself I know this relationship can be invaluable to a growing company. Especially in times of trouble.
I have also found that just because the relationship has been long term, it does not mean that it is necessarily a thriving or healthy. Like a bad marriage sometimes these relationships continue because “it’s just easier” than making a change.
Of course this is not true of all long term Client/IT Service Provider relationships. Many flourish for years and the IT provider is their trusted advisor providing both strategy and execution on behalf of the client.
One of my former colleagues stated his theory on the provider/client dynamic. His name will be withheld to protect the innocent.
“It is hard, time consuming and costs too much to make the change (to a new service provider) so our customers are like cats. Each has nine lives and they don’t look at getting rid of us until they are on life 7 or 8.”
A very sobering thought. The more I thought about it, it was not entirely without merit.
When the association grows longer the risk of becoming stagnant and going through the motions can increase. Quality begins to slip and collaboration becomes less frequent.
It would be a lie if I did not recognize it had happened in a couple of my client relationships.
The IT Service Provider Seven Year Itch
You have probably heard of the term “seven-year itch” which is built on a principle that at that point in time satisfaction and happiness with a long term relationship (think marriage, job, house) begins to decline. That belief can be applied to your service provider relationship as well.
Similar to marriages the breakup’s between IT providers and their clients tend to be bad endings. The end usually consists of a number of small problems that either don’t get solved quickly or perceived indifference to these issues. Eventually, one of these problems become the tipping point and the relationship can diminish quickly.
This becomes a huge issue for both parties. Often, the client will make a quick change in service provider done in the heat of the moment. This can lead to bigger issues for the client as there is little or no knowledge transfer to the new service provider.
For the service provider it means loss of the client, revenue, and in some cases reputation risk.
How to Create a Healthy Long-term IT Service Provider Relationship
The good news is most of us know a married couple (or two) that have had a long term relationship. When you speak to these folks almost all of them will say they have and their ups and downs, but the secret to their success was because they worked together in good times and bad.
This is a great rule of thumb for your service provider relationship. You can greatly improve your odds of maintaining a strong long term relationship if you take the following steps.
- Get a quarterly meeting on the schedule to discuss your business and the state of the overall relationship. Don’t just meet when there is a problem occurring.
- In the quarterly meeting be open about your overall business strategy and where you perceive the vendor to fit. If you need some guidance on how to do this check out our IT Strategy Guide.
- Ask the vendor questions in this meeting. I am surprised when I meet a client most do not know a lot about their IT service provider beyond their service team. Are they growing? Shrinking? Adding new talent? Adding new clients? It is important to see if their company’s future aligns with that of your company.
- Most important, DO NOT SKIP THESE MEETINGS! If you or the vendor needs to reschedule, that is fine, just don’t let it slip until the next scheduled meeting. Often once the first meeting slips, they all tend to be forgotten.
- If the IT Service Provider keeps cancelling the meeting, it is a “red flag”. This meeting is as important to them as it is to you. By repeatedly cancelling their actions speak loudly about how they value the relationship.
The Relationship can be Saved
This regular meeting cadence without the stress of an IT problem should keep you and your service provider on the same page. These meetings will be a benefit to both parties as each will have a forum to address any outstanding issues before they spiral out of control.
So I go back to the example of the older married couple. Ask almost any of them what the secret to their marriage is and you will find out their answers include communication and finding time for one another. Most that make that happen have long, lasting marriages. Carve that time out with your IT Service Provider and you may find the same result.