Software

Handling vendor failures

When your vendor fails, don't get mad—and don't get even. Patience and a positive approach will bring you better results.


One of the most frustrating aspects of managing technology is when your vendors fail. This is the risk that you take when you outsource, and the risk that you (hopefully) eliminate by bringing projects in-house. When a vendor fails, your first reaction might be to criticize them, berate them, or just beat them up. Unfortunately, this approach generally doesn’t yield positive results.

The system is down again…
If you rely on a vendor for any type of service or system, then you are familiar with the phrase “The system is down again.” In most organizations, this is followed by an e-mail or phone call to the provider, at which point you're told that they are working on the problem and it will be resolved in about an hour. Which of course means more like eight to 24 hours.

As this process breaks down, you get fed up with their service, vow not to pay them, bad-mouth them, whatever. Sometimes you send them nasty e-mails telling them exactly what they did wrong and how you would have done things better or differently.

The defensive reaction
By criticizing and offending your vendor, you force them to become defensive. They try to back up their decisions with the facts as they see them, which are usually quite different from the way you see them. They get aggravated with you and stop taking your calls, stop responding to your e-mails, and avoid you in general. And why not? You wouldn’t want to talk to someone who was hostile or insulting.

The high road
There is a better way to handle this situation. The next time this happens, try to put yourself in the vendor’s shoes and think about how you would like someone to approach you.

Instead of starting by telling them what they did wrong or how they failed to meet your expectations, start with a compliment or highlight something good they’ve done recently. This could be as simple as the system working for three weeks straight without a hitch, or the performance being good. Whatever it is, you need to convince them that you think they are adding value and that you are on the same team.

Next, explain the problem with a nonbiased attitude. Don’t jump to conclusions about the cause or insinuate that they don’t know how to handle the situation. Be sure that they understand the issue and have them repeat it back to you to verify their understanding.

Finally, be patient with them. Sure, you’re paying them to provide you with a service. But most likely, every time you call you push them a little further away. And in small shops, you take up the time of the guy who is going to fix the problem.

Brian Schaffner is the director of information technology for Directec Corporation .

What’s the best way to deal with a vendor problem? Should there always be a financial incentive and penalty to ensure performance and response times? Post a comment below or send us a note.

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