Vendors — You can't live with them, you can't live without them. What IT manager hasn't looked at the IT-vendor relationship as one of love-hate? You need their products, services, and support to do your job and for your department to succeed. But why do they have to do those annoying things all the time?
If you see one of your own issues here, be assured that you are not alone. Also, while you yourself can't fix these issues, at least you can give this article to your vendors and hope they get the hint. Where possible, I've offered suggestions on how, if I were the vendor, I would address the matter.
1: Lying about the product
They simply can't be honest about the product, can they? They promise you the moon and show you a demonstration product that works miracles. But of course, the actual product works nothing like the demo.
You probably wonder how vendors can lie about the product, knowing that they'll be found out. Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer lies in the turnover of sales staff. They're thinking that soon, they'll be in another territory, job, or company. Or even worse, they're relying on the technical support staff or engineers to make good on the initial promises.
You have to rely on more than what the vendor tells you. You will need to ask business associates, user group members, and other sources about their experiences. If you are meeting in person with vendor reps, watch their body language when they answer your questions. Listen for uncertainty or hesitation. Don't be afraid to press for details to get a better read. After all, your own job could on the line.
2: Not knowing the product
Aggravating, isn't it, when you know more about the vendor's product than they do? That knowledge hardly gives you a comfortable or confident feeling. Wouldn't you be happier if the person answering your questions were doing more than quoting a product reference? Wouldn't you be more secure if the person knew the real-life limitations of that product?
3: Not listening
Are you annoyed when you ask a question and the vendor's response has nothing to do with what you asked? How about when you mention a key requirement that the vendor's product has to meet, but you get no acknowledgment of that requirement? Their habit of not listening to you might not be intentional. They might simply be so focused on trying to get the sale that they aren't hearing your questions or concerns. However, if they refuse to listen, and that behavior is sufficiently irritating, you just might look at a competitor instead.
4: Failing to empathize
Not only do vendors sometimes fail to listen, they may not empathize with you either. Doesn't it annoy you that they don't realize the underlying reasons for your questions about their product? Wouldn't you be happier if their answers actually addressed concerns they were perceptive enough to detect?
5: Passing the buck
Don't you hate when a person from one vendor department starts criticizing another vendor department? For example, a support engineer might tell you that the help desk is clueless. And then both the support engineer and the help desk might tell you that the marketing staff knows nothing. Those kinds of stories are the last thing you need to hear when you have a technical problem or question. Why can't they just work things out in private and present a unified front to their customers?
6: Providing poor documentation
First of all, does the documentation fail to answer your questions? Second, does it seem irrelevant to your particular needs? Too often, documentation is thrown together at the last minute by people who weren't involved in the development process. Even worse, that documentation, while possibly accurate in describing the product, often doesn't focus on what you need. For example, I've seen a lot of camera manuals that describe each button or lever but fail to contain a section on "If you want to do A, follow these steps." In other words, the documentation revolves around the product, not around how the customer needs to use the product.
7: Using an intolerable phone support system
Don't get me started on the inability to reach a live person. Or on phone systems that don't present the option you really need or offer a "catchall" option. My suggestion: Once you figure out the right sequence of keys, write it down. That way, you won't have to wade through all those menus next time.
8: Failing to set expectations
How often has the vendor surprised you? I don't mean that they unexpectedly gave you a $50 Starbucks card, either. I mean those cases where the vendor has led you to believe that the conversion, installation, or development would be smooth and timely, but now tells you of all the problems and delays that are arising. Do you think that person had any idea about these things earlier? Wouldn't you have appreciated knowing yourself? At least that way, you'd be better prepared when they do arise.
This issue is related to the previous ones. Can the vendor be realistic about what the product actually does? In fact, wouldn't you put more faith in them if they actually disclosed the things the product can't do? Or if they at least qualified the prerequisites needed for that product to do what you are asking?
10: Not keeping in touch
How often do you feel that you are being treated like mushrooms? Have you been left in the dark while the vendor turns to another organization to get answers your questions? When nothing is going on, wouldn't you appreciate it if the vendor told you that? If nothing else, you would know that the vendor hasn't forgotten you.
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Other vendor beefs?
What irritates you the most when dealing with vendors? Have you found some particularly effective ways to manage or improve those relationships?
Calvin Sun is an attorney who writes about technology and legal issues for TechRepublic.