I was recently doing some internet research for a project I was working on that involves independent and freelance workers. One of the first websites I visited was the Freelancers Union site because it’s chock full of great information for and about independent workers. While navigating around that website, I discovered that the organization has what’s called a Client Scorecard where freelancers get a chance to rate the companies they’ve worked for according to whether those companies accomplished the following:
• Provided a written agreement to the vendor
• Paid the vendors in full and on time
• Gave the vendor a clear job description
• Paid the vendor at market rate or above
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• Answered the vendors’ questions about the assignments in a timely manner
Freelancers rate the companies they’ve worked for by giving a score of 1 star (horrible) to 5 stars (great) according to those specific areas listed above. Along with the numerical ratings, freelancers get to give a more in-depth review of their experiences with the company. I read through a number of the vendor reviews, both positive and negative and I noticed a couple themes that kept jumping out at me: professionalism and character.
After reading through a few more of the bad reviews the first thing I wondered was, if those companies created such bad relationships with their service providers how were their relationships with their customers? Okay so I thought, maybe, they have good relationships with their customers. But it also occurred to me that those vendors providing the ratings and reviews are real people, with friends and families and networks. And just like dissatisfied buyers they probably talk and complain much more than they share their good experiences. All it takes is a Facebook post from a person with many “friends” and a few “shares” by those friends. Then the next thing you know, there’s a tweet with a clever hashtag warning “not to buy from that company because they’re unprofessional and they cheat people”. The most interesting thing is that the Freelancers Union boasts membership of more than 200,000 people. My sense is that it’s probably not great for a brand to have 200,000 people think rightly or wrongly that the company lacks integrity.
As a marketing strategist I always say to business owners “Every contact your company has with your customers is important. You’re communicating something about your business with every encounter”. Every interaction has the potential to make a positive or negative impact on people who either buy or consider buying your products. But this doesn’t just apply to your dealings with customers. This applies to your dealings with the all the actors in the marketplace. At the end of the day every business owner is a marketer, whether they want to accept it or not. The world is a small place and thanks to social media, it’s becoming smaller by the day. Just as a bad customer experience can put a crimp in your business, having bad encounters with your vendors, and others in your marketing public can hurt you as well.
So how can you reduce the chances of having bad relationships with your service providers? By no means am I suggesting that you gleefully accept bad service and a poor product in an effort to not tick anybody off. What I am saying is this:
Get a Clear Understanding and Get It In Writing
Before you hire someone to provide a service, get in writing a clear outline of all the things you’re proposing to pay for. For example, if you’re hiring a janitorial service, the proposal should outline in detail what comes in the package. If there’s something that you don’t see in the outline, you need to ask about that upfront. If it’s not included and costs extra, then the onus is on you to decide if you want to pay more to add that feature. It’s tedious but in the long run it reduces the chances of a misunderstanding.
Don’t Let a Simple Dispute Blow Up Into Something Major
Work with your vendor in earnest to resolve simple issues. Sitting down face to face or at least voice-to-voice is a big step in working out the problem. It’s easy to fire off a nasty email but it’s much more difficult to face someone and hash out the solution to a disagreement. But from a marketing standpoint it shows integrity and having that kind of company integrity only helps your brand.
Have Empathy for Your Fellow Business Owners
Empathy is characterized by being able to feel what other people feel because you have experienced it yourself. You want to get paid for what you do and so do other business owners. I’m sure you, as a business owner, probably know what it feels like to not get paid in a timely manner or to have a customer not want to pay your full invoice. There may be legitimate issues that have to be solved. But remember that your vendor is in business just as you are.
Marketing strategy does not end with your relationship with customers. You operate in a larger marketplace and there are many players that can impact your reputation and by extension your brand. You have the opportunity to build your brand with integrity. Developing respectful relationships with your vendors and service providers will carry you a long way.