Let me begin this with the caveat that sometimes I am unfortunately a jerk to do business with. I have been unreasonable and abusive to suppliers, and on too many occasions have been a pretty unpleasant guy to do business with.
But in watching my own company’s interaction with difficult clients from the service provider perspective, I have come to realize there is a high price to pay for being a jerk, and I have often just hurt myself and my company by not operating in a real spirit of cooperation with those I buy from. Businesses perform best in a real atmosphere of cooperation, which has made me more focused on creating real partnerships with those I buy from.
In any service business you should anticipate demanding clients, and being demanding is not a bad thing. Demanding clients are doing you a favor by making your operation continually improve performance. Clients that are honest and direct about their needs help suppliers build their capabilities and expand their own business. And as the book says, “a complaint is a gift”. I appreciate a client that lets me know when we are not performing so I can fix the situation.
But there is a big difference between being demanding, and being abusive. Cross the line to abusive and you create a dysfunctional relationship, and ultimately nobody performs to their best. Sometimes even good people unwittingly slip into the abusive category due to the many pressures of the workplace. You have crossed the line if you are doing the following:
1. Scream as your normal mode of communication with your supplier.
2. Consistently call your supplier at home very early and/or very late because that’s when you get your best work done.
3. Insist your supplier work on major holidays just to prove their loyalty to you. Certainly, emergencies do happen that require attention over holidays, but forcing people to leave their families and work just because you have the power to do so is a bad idea.
4. Continually disrespect your supplier’s time. Certainly a good service provider should do their utmost to accommodate their clients’ schedules, but if you consistently show up an hour late for conference calls, cancel meetings at the last minute as a matter of practice, and basically leave people continually waiting for you, you have crossed the line.
5. Abuse your supplier financially. This includes continually grinding suppliers for discounts just because you can, refusing to pay bills for no good reason, demanding additional discounts before you pay a bill because you are holding the supplier hostage financially, and otherwise forcing your supplier into a situation where they lose money working for you.
6. Use your supplier as a scapegoat to the boss. Too often people are afraid to accept responsibility for their own actions and find it easier to blame a supplier when a mistake occurs.
7. Steal from your supplier. Time is money, but too often people have suppliers spend a lot of time preparing proposals, plans, bids, and ideas when they have no intention to purchase – then take that intellectual capital and use it without any form of compensation.
If your relationship with a supplier has reached a point where you constantly have to be abusive because of their failure to provide adequate service, it’s best to do everyone a favor and fire them.
Ultimately, there is a high price to pay for being a jerk. While there are always companies willing to work for abusive clients (especially in this economy), they are seldom best in class. Or, because of the burnout factor of working with abusive clients, companies ultimately migrate the junior teams to the worst clients.
Over the years I have unfortunately had to “fire clients” that I could have really helped, but the dysfunctional relationship was too harmful to my organization. In the end, abusive clients end up working with substandard suppliers. Sometimes you even encounter companies that have nurtured abusiveness within their organization to the point it becomes a dominating feature. In the advertising industry there are a few clients renowned for being mean, and the most talented agencies refuse to work for them.
Being a jerk is also a dangerous professional move. Over the years I have known a number of notoriously abusive individuals working on the client side that lost their jobs, only to discover that their nasty reputations made finding employment very difficult.
The client that is demanding – but reasonable and professional – always gets the best work. Being nice makes people want to do their best for you. It costs nothing and pays big dividends. And with that said, I am going to endeavor to take my own advice. Wish me luck.