Terry Corbell, The Biz Coach
By Terry Corbell
Business Consultant

How to Get Great Service from Dysfunctional Vendors


Two techniques to use when you have to be assertive with difficult people



Two questions: How successful are you in getting top service from your vendors, professionals or strategic partners. Do you ever feel like a doormat? How do you characterize the vendors’ consistency?

The goal of professionals should be to help you solve your problems and to exceed your expectations. More and more, many businesspeople have expressed disappointment in the brand consistency of their vendors, both in business and as a consumer. That includes me.

ID-100146211 Stuart MilesIt’s become the norm, not the exception.

But we should be able to receive the products or services for which we’re paying.

The work and service of some vendors have been so bad, it has affected my attitude, which leads me to an important point: It’s never OK in business to get angry.

I still have to check my attitude. Is it contagious and worth catching. Or have I contributed to the problem?

In pointing fingers, I check to see if I have three fingers on my hand pointing back at me.

What is my role in the situation? I try to make certain that my side of the street is clean – before pointing fingers, so that vendors value my business.

Next, when my expectations still are not met, I mentally inventory the situation.

In other words, I develop a balance sheet of the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

The two bottom-line questions I ask:

— “Do they deserve my business?”

— “Do I need them?”

Sometimes I have decided that the errant company isn’t worth the hassle and I terminate the relationship. That includes multiple CPAs and attorneys. I don’t offer a reason why.

Many such people wouldn’t get it any way, so I save my energy for important things.

In other cases, I’ve decided to gently criticize the vendor, usually a person who needs a little guidance.

If I need the person’s service and they are otherwise respectful — perhaps she/he is just a little disorganized — I’ve simply told the person I was a little uncomfortable and shared how I want to be treated.

If the person was aware of my track record, in some cases I’ve shared how I managed to keep several clients happy continuously for many years, and I provided the person a copy of my own firm’s standards for excellence.

The person has always appreciated the gentle reproaching. Often, I’ve felt forced to do business with people for reasons that stemmed from my clients’ budget-limitations or perhaps the vendors had a monopoly on products or services.

But I also always developed multiple options or a backup plan.

Pancake sandwich technique

If I decide the person is worth it, it was important not to wait too long to criticize her/him using a simple process:

  1. I give the person two unrelated, valid compliments
  2. My criticism
  3. A third unrelated positive comment to end the discussion on a high note

The two bottom-line questions I ask:

— “Do they deserve my business?”

— “Do I need them?”

Five assertion steps

However, if the situation hasn’t improved and it becomes too serious ignore, and I value the relationship – instead of being a doormat, I use a five-step process:

1. Schedule a meeting

Without divulging the reason for my request, I ask for an appointment at least three business days in advance. Even if they want to meet sooner, I don’t. For example, ask: “How about Tuesday at 10 or Wednesday at 2?” Be sure to give a choice of times so that the person is focused on when you’ll meet, instead of whether the meeting will occur. Don’t be surprised if the person picks the first option.

When the person asks you why you want to meet, simply respond something like this: “No big deal. It can wait until we meet.” Many people typically lose sleep over such a request, which is okay because you want the person’s attention.

2. Two strokes

At the meeting, give the offending person two compliments. If I can’t think of two good strokes, guess who needs an attitude check?

Humor me: Not to be ridiculous, but in a hypothetical extreme case — even the world’s historically worst person, Adolf Hitler, had two qualities (e.g. he was a mesmerizing orator, and he had imagination). I merely use him as an example to help you remember to use this important step.

3. Explain what you’re feeling

For example: “I feel uncomfortable when deliveries are consistently late.” Improve your chances by keeping the dialogue focused on principle, not personalities.

Don’t point a finger by using the word, “you.” If you have several complaints, implement these five steps in a letter and present it in the meeting. (Usually, if you can list six valid problems, it will work to your advantage. Somehow it’s magical number for succcess.)

4. Tell the person what you want

For example: “What I want is for deliveries to be on time.”  

5. Get an agreement

Look the person in the eye and ask point blank: “Are you willing to make deliveries on schedule?” Be sure to ask the question without making a threat. If the person says “yes,” shake hands and move on. If the person says “no,” simply do whatever you need to do for success, including going over the person’s head or find another vendor. (You’ll be amazed how not resorting to make threats builds your confidence in such situations.)

Finally, try to see the humor in each circumstance. Some people are afraid to confront others. Over more than 30 years, I don’t recall this process ever failing to defuse volatile situations — from dealing with my bosses in broadcast journalism to my vendors who were senior executives at Fortune 100 companies.

From the Coach’s Corner, yes, this process works in human resources and personal relationships, too. “When I say no, I feel guilty” by Dr. Manuel Smith is a very helpful book on being assertive. It was a highly acclaimed best-seller a few decades ago but is available in paperback at Amazon.com.

More reading on perplexing situations:

9 Dos and Don’ts for Best Decision-making — Nine tips if you have difficulty making the best decisions, engage in self doubt after making one, or you’re gun shy because your decisions go awry.

Need a Career Change? 10 Steps for a Career Makeover — So you think you want to change careers. Or perhaps you need a career makeover. You’re not alone. Professionals of all stripes have found they need to retool their careers or re-engineer themselves. There’s a myriad of reasons. It’s usually related to technology and a changing marketplace.

Best 11 Tips for a Great Elevator Pitch — Whatever you’re trying to sell — one skill you definitely need is a super elevator pitch. You need to prepare for any opportunities. Don’t be caught off guard. Create an introduction describing the value you provide, be concise, customize it for your target audience, and really know it – so you can deliver a flawless elevator pitch.

Always be yourself because the people that matter don’t mind. . .and the ones that mind don’t matter.


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Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.





Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at www.freedigitalphotos.net

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Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.