When Good Clients Go Bad

There is a seeming trend recently across the events industry to lay the blame for failed relationships directly at contractors feet, with a plethora of excuses being uttered from the management team exclaiming how bad a contractor they were, how they simply didn’t get what the contractor was offering or worse how they never liked the contractoror individual anyway. This is frankly ridiculous and sadly reflects an industry trend where there is seemingly a belief amongst contractors that there is little value in developing long-term relationships with clients.

If the client didn’t like a particular solution or didn’t understand what was being offered to them at the point of sale a contractor wouldn’t have been awarded the business and the opportunity to form a relationship.

The assumption is that when a relationship goes bad, it is that the contractor failed to either deliver against the promises made at the point of sale or simply failed to engage with the client. It is this fundamental breakdown in the contractor/client relationship that creates tension and ultimately places pressure on the contractor to deliver in the face of perceived or actual failures that leads to a loss of trust and abreak down in the relationship. 

There those that extol the virtue of “firing bad contractors”. Whilst this may seem like a relativelyquick way of removing difficult contractor, it fails to take account of the investment that will have already invested in the contract or the cost of tendering and then mobilizing new business to replace what is being thrown away. A better approach might actually be to continue to make investment in the relationship accepting that things may not actually be delivered correctly anyway. This may however require an adjustment to ego or indeed ego’s…

 Client contractor relationships don’t just disappear overnight. Relationships can be destroyed through sustained failure to deliver upon expectations. These failures typically fall into two distinct categories:

Tangible Failures are measurable and clearly indicate where a service is failing todeliver against a defined SLA. Continued poor performance against a SLA issloppy at best but ultimately addressable. Where there is a sustained failure and it is clear to the client that the failures aren’t being addressed eithercorrectly or to the satisfaction of both parties it automatically leads to the generation of Perceived Failures.

Perceived Failures are much more difficult to address and can descend into a situation wherethe focus is on catching the other party out rather than actually resolving the issue and getting back to Business as Usual. Perception not fact can kill arelationship.

The cold reality is that it is often the client that challenges and stretches a contractor. Yes they may be unforgiving but working with them as full partners in the development anddelivery of a new, innovative or simply different service delivery model is anopportunity not a curse. The learning experience with challenging clients, developingan understanding of their specific requirements even when it was counterintuitive can be very rewarding.

The challenge for the contractor whenworking within this type of relationship is to develop a full and honestunderstanding of the client requirement, working together to ensure that everymember of the delivery team understands the systems, processes, rules etc. This sharing of knowledge and information is absolutely key as managers have atendency to try and hold new knowledge to themselves believing that this knowledge gives them an advantage over everyone else. With holding knowledge only makes a single point of failure in the relationship. The real power comes from sharing the knowledge and developing a highly effective team that delivers in an environment where others would likely fail.

It is critical that contractors develop open, frank and trusting relationships with their clients if they are to besuccessful. This includes recognizing that when a client is expressing thatthey are unhappy that an action needs to be taken to address the issue, notsimply pay lip service to the issue and hope that it will go away. All stakeholders in the relationship need to fully understand the requirements whether it is formally described within a contract or has become an informalrequirement determined by a changing requirement in the client’s core business model.

Managers on both sides need to ensure that where they hear the expression of dissatisfaction this is addressed immediately, again this is an imperative as nothing travels faster thandissatisfaction. A much better model would be to celebrate the relationship that and remember that if you only do what youcan do, you’ll never be better than what you are.

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