Tech Thoughts — How to Pick a Services Vendor


This month we’re talking about services. Not all services companies are created equal, and, because of staffing shortages, a lot of great services companies are struggling to keep their customers happy. So how do you pick a good services vendor? Here are the rules that have served me well over the years.

How do they handle problems?

Not every project has a problem, but a good services vendor gives you a head up and then works to correct the problem that was created. A bad vendor blames others, even its clients, for the problem, and is unresponsive when you raise the issue. The way to identify this bad behavior is to do a background check on the vendor asking for reference accounts. If every account was problem free, you likely have a vendor that doesn’t deal with problems well and has left any accounts that had them off its reference list. If they have had a problem and the vendor handled it well (especially if that problem occurred during the pandemic when everyone was struggling), then the vendor is likely okay to work with.

Does the vendor understand your project and related technology?

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is having a vendor install something they’ve never installed before or used a vendor who doesn’t work with companies like yours. I know because I’ve made this mistake myself. Learning on the job will generally result in problems with the installation that will be painful and even expensive to correct. Ideally, you want to use vendors who know both you and your issues and have years of experience on both the type of problem they are addressing and the technology they use to address it. Someone that lacks that knowledge is likely to make bad assumptions about how the technology works and what you really need done could end up as a failed project.

Are they too cheap?

You need to understand what a quality job costs before hiring a vendor. Unscrupulous vendors will underbid to get the business, then look at ways to increase your costs once the project starts so they can turn an unprofitable project into a massively profitable one. You want a vendor who bids fairly and keeps to the bid throughout the project. If you change your mind, or expand the project once it has started, then the overcharges are your fault, but you don’t want a vendor that is way over the other bids or way under. Either scenario could result in you spending more than the project is worth, though I’ve found that undercharging vendors generally turns out to be the most expensive.

Adequate staffing?

If the vendor is having trouble retaining people, then its ability to perform on a schedule will be problematic. Be aware that most every vendor is having staffing issues right now and that it is unlikely they’ll be able to meet schedules, but if you are choosing between two otherwise equal vendors, pick the one that appears to be retaining its staff and treats them like family. Even a vendor that was reputable and honest can degrade quickly if its suddenly must start sketchy folks out of desperation.

Look at litigation history

Anyone can have one or two bad relationships, but if you do a litigation search of the vendor and find a lot of action against employees or from customers, you are likely looking at a bad vendor. The problem could be employee abuse or something as simple as poor communication, but unless you really like drama, finding a service provider that isn’t in excessive litigation will likely pay dividends in the future. Do look at the pleadings if you can, however, because vendors can have bad luck too and may have just run into a group of bad customers.

Be a good customer

A lot of the vendor problems I’ve seen over the years aren’t the vendor’s fault so much as they are the customer’s fault. They didn’t understand their own project, they had no idea what something like what they wanted costs, they make lots of change orders without asking “what will this cost” and freak when they see the ending bill, or they are just abusive, making demands of the vendor and their people that are unreasonable. Don’t be that kind of customer. Offer cold sodas and drinks during the summer, coffee in the winter, and when you are picking up food, ask if any of the folks working want anything. If someone is injured or gets sick, be sympathetic, don’t yell at them for related delays, and pay your bill on time. Don’t make them come after you. If you treat your service provider well, they’ll treat you well.

Once, when leaving a job, an AT&T tech left behind a $3,000 piece of equipment (it wasn’t my job, but I found the equipment where he’d left it). I called AT&T, ran down the supervisor (had no idea who the tech was) and returned the hardware. From then on, if I had any trouble with my internet or phone service, that supervisor had my back. If you treat a service provider well, there is a better than even chance they’ll do the same for you. If you treat them poorly, don’t be surprised if you don’t enjoy the relationship as much.

Finally, as noted above, service providers are having huge staffing problems related to several issues ranging from increased demand to the pandemic. Be understanding, though also make sure you remind the vendor to just give you a heads up if it has an issue. There is no real excuse for not showing up unless you are unable to pick up the phone.

Oh, and one last thing. Vendors tell stories about both good and bad clients. They have relatives and friends that work for other firms, and if you are abusive, there is a pretty good chance you’ll have real issues getting a good vendor to work for you. Good vendors are blessed with choices, and they may refuse to work with jerks. • 408-272-8560 •


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Rob Enderle — Enderle Group

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