How to get the right result in your service purchasing

A Roman denarius, a standardized silver coin.

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We know what we want?

It is easy to think we know what we want when buying in services, but we do need to check what our supplier thinks we have asked for. After all, if we buy a new TV or dishwasher, we need to know it fits our requirements; whether it is the right quality or has enough capacity. We need to make sure that the item is of a suitable specification.

I am sure we have all made mistakes with our purchasing. If it is not a high value item we can shrug our shoulders and learn. If we have spent a lot of money we need to make sure we are getting what we expect.

Often in business we do spend quite a lot when buying in services. It might be on marketing, it might be on our telecoms purchasing, or finance or accounting services. It is vital that we give our suppliers all the information they need to know that they can fulfil our requirements.

From the other end

As a supplier I have on occasion found that I have not been told what I needed to know. Once I had a very detailed brief from a client, and asked the questions that seemed obvious from the instructions. I started work on the project and then found out something that changed everything. I did not learn of this additional factor from the client. I won’t say I found out completely by accident. Sometimes we can make an educated guess based on not much. However from where I started I could not have known about something which was so left field and which for legal reasons meant I could not complete the project as originally instructed.

Looking back, the client had no excuse not to tell me. It would be akin to forgetting to tell the builder putting up an extension to your house that there was a disused mine shaft underneath.

Lay it bare

The moral of the story is that if you are buying in services, whether it is website design, accountancy, financial advice or re-fitting of your shop you need to specify exactly what you want and tell your supplier everything. It is always better to tell them too much than too little, and use common sense to decide what they might need to know but couldn’t guess. Otherwise everyone ends up with egg on their face. I prefer my egg in an omelette and I cook a decent one. I don’t like wasted money, wasted time or wasted eggs.

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Keeping our clients in the loop

Many of us have several client projects agreed and on the go at the same time. That is the nature of many of our businesses. We all know it is important to give the client an idea of how long an engagement will take to come to fruition. The client needs to be given a realistic expectation of delivery.

Life being what it is, sometimes not everything runs smoothly. Things go wrong. Our contractor fails to deliver their part promptly. Someone is ill. Another client has an emergency and needs to be saved from complete disaster, and we have to make a decision to delay another client’s project slightly in order to save our desperate client’s bacon.

We do need to make sure everyone knows what is going on.

  • With a new project set a sensible time for expected completion bearing in mind what other work our business has and in accordance with the client’s needs.
  • Keep the client up to date on how their project is going.
  • Involve the client in the process to make them feel comfortable in the relationship.
  • If something goes wrong or there is an unforeseen delay, keep the client informed.
  • Do not make promises we can’t keep. Do not promise delivery be the middle of next week without checking we have all the resources, materials, personnel, permissions or whatever we need to make it happen.
  • Apologize if we need to. The client will understand if there really is some problem beyond our control.

If we deliver late without a proper explanation we will not be given the next project our client needs to be carried out. We will not be recommended and referred. We will lose business down the line. We may end up with a fee dispute over the current project.

In the end, keeping our clients informed is part of basic customer service, and there is nothing more important in business than that, is there?

What do you think?

© Jon Stow 2010

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