Merge's Blog

(Lack of) strategic thinking and client responsiveness – a true story

I’ve always known that being responsive to your clients is an important measure of business and leadership success, but recent events in my office have just served to further emphasize and highlight this important concept.  Let me explain.

I’ll give you the whole story over the next few blog posts, but in today’s instalment, let me first set the stage by telling you about what happened last September.  Here in my office, we manage our client relationships using the well-known commercial software ACT.  Last fall, Paulene joined our team as my new business manager, so we had to setup a new remote location of ACT on her desktop.  Now, we’re familiar enough with ACT here in my company that we can do most routine activities and everyday maintenance on our own, but an installation and setup of a new remote computer is beyond the usual (plus I figured it was time to upgrade to the new 2011 version of the software anyway).  So to facilitate the process, I contracted with an independent ACT consultant who I’ll call Lester.  In our initial conversations, I was very upfront with Lester that we were looking for a one-time installation with enough knowledge transfer so that we could handle future routine issues on our own.  But I also told him that I hoped for this to be the start of a long-term relationship so that in the future, when we had out-of-the-ordinary issues (which seem to crop up fairly often) we could use him as our go-to person.  He agreed, and I thought all was fine.  Things started well enough; but unfortunately the eventual experience was not a positive one.  It took him a few hours to do the actual installation and set-up, and later that day, I asked him to give me the highlights of the new features in the latest version of the software.  Imagine my surprise when his immediate response was “I’ll be happy to set you up on an ongoing training and service contract to help you with those issues.”  Really?!  I didn’t want ongoing training, I just wanted him to give me a quick update so we could take advantage of any software enhancements that came in the new version!  I tried valiantly to ask questions but it was akin to pulling teeth, and needless to say, the conversation didn’t last very long.  Unfortunately, in the weeks following, we continued to have several questions and unexpected problems arising from the installation, but Lester’s responses continued to be vague and evasive.  Clearly, his overriding goal was to sell us an ongoing service contract and not to deliver on his original promise; this despite my clarity on our needs when we first engaged him.  Eventually in November, I had to formally write to him and insist that he fulfill his original commitment to correctly install the software on Paulene’s desktop.  He reluctantly agreed to have one of his technicians take another look at the installation, and luckily, on this go-around, most of our outstanding issues were resolved.  The ones that weren’t adequately addressed, we simply chose to let go, chalking it up to a bad vendor and a “learning” experience.  I vowed however that we would never work with this consultant again!

While the eventual outcome of this installation was not as terrible as it could have been, Lester’s lack of strategic thinking and non-responsiveness completely floored me.  He clearly had no desire or willingness to build a business relationship or any goodwill with me, his client.  It was obvious that he was only engaging in the transaction for what he could add to his bottom-line today.  Now don’t get me wrong, I understand the motivation!  Unless you’re a non-profit or a charity, you’re in business to make money!  But both his view and his approach were short-sighted.  Not only was he unwilling to go above and beyond by taking a few minutes to answer our questions, he didn’t even properly deliver on the basic installation requirements until I got tough with him.  If he had delivered what he promised (without needing me to push), I would have been a satisfied client.  And if he had invested 15 minutes of his time in answering our questions, I would have been a thrilled client.  But Lester just didn’t get it!  And so my relationship with him was brief.  What could have been a long-term association with many opportunities for referral business never came to be.  Good leaders always need to try and seek an optimum balance between an immediate bottom-line focus AND a strategic long-term, and unfortunately (for Lester), he isn’t a good leader, nor a good businessperson.

What’s been your experience?  Have you met anyone like Lester?  Or perhaps you see things from Lester’s point of view?  Tell me what you think by commenting below.

In my next blog post, I’ll tell you about what happened just two weeks ago that brought this whole Lester situation front-and-centre in my mind once again.  Unfortunately, it was yet another example of someone not understanding how client responsiveness and strategic thinking are key business leadership skills.  Stay tuned.

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