A Relationship Story – Great Services Relationships

A Relationship Story – Great Services Relationships (Including Survey Results)

June 2008

Everyone is either a user or a provider of services, if not both. I have thought about the keys to success in these relationships for the entire 5½ years I have been an executive search consultant with McDermott & Bull. I also knew there were a lot of answers to this question out there in the wonderful community of clients, colleagues, community leaders, and friends who have become part of my life over these years – so I thought I’d ask.

A month ago, I asked you a question about Services Relationships. I can say with pride that I have received over 500 responses (I thank you all), and I’m sure this extensive data represents a statistically significant sample. I wanted to share the powerfully enlightening learnings that have resulted – this project has been a very cool experience.

The Question:

Think about the keys to successful relationships in receiving or providing services. I’ve listed 8 factors in successful services relationships.

A. They do good work (quality of product/service)
B. They are fast (speed of execution)
C. They are cheap (cost competitiveness)
D. I believe in them (trustworthiness/honesty)
E. They are professional (impressiveness)
F. I can count on them (consistency/dependability)
G. I get extra things (collateral benefits like learning, other resources, perks)
H. I like working with them (enjoyable relationship)

Please just send me a quick email choosing 3 (and only 3) of these that you consider the most important (please just 3, although we all know “they’re all important”). Also, please identify yourself as primarily a “user” or a “provider” of services. I want to compare the two groups.

The Results:

Admittedly, the “3 and only 3” requirement caused many important things to be left out, but the idea was to force people to identify their idea of the most critical elements in these relationships. The total number of responses was 563; they were very balanced and included 302 users and 261 providers.

There were three clear-cut choices – Quality, included by 86% of respondents; Reliability by 76%; Trust by 62%. In fact, a full 1/3 of all responses reflected these as their choices. None of the other choices were even close – Speed (13%), Cost (14%), Professionalism (18%), Extras (2%), Likeability (29%)

In addition to these summary results that answer the obvious curiosity we all shared, I also wanted to observe the user/provider differences, and to learn specifically about corporate professional services relationships similar to my business. I identified Corporate Top Executives (67 of them) and other Corporate Managers (144 of them), as I felt these were the most likely buyers of professional services, and I also identified Service Providers like myself (113 of them) as differentiated from others who also responded as “providers”.

There were some very powerful observations that jump from the data as follows:

• Service Providers tend to have skewed perceptions of the following versus Corporate Managers:

o They underestimate the irreplaceability of excellence (Quality) – 82% vs. 90%
o They underestimate the need for quickness (Speed) – 10% vs. 17%
o They underestimate the priority on affordability (Cost) – 10% vs. 17%
o They underestimate the power of being counted on (Dependability) – 68% vs. 82%
o They severely overestimate the importance of being liked (Likeability) – 40% vs. 21%

• In addition, Corporate Managers included Trust in their responses far less often (54%) than Service Providers did (68%); and they gave absolutely no weight to “Extras”.

One area I feel warrants further investigation is the surprisingly low rating among Corporate Managers in the area of Trust (54.2%). It seems that they just can’t always believe in their providers. I’ll bet they would be happy if this rating could be higher; this seems like a big opportunity for trustworthy providers. I look forward to developing a future communication piece on the key elements of building trust, and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this subject.

Closing observation – I had wondered about the success keys to these relationships … well I now have my answer. What will I (and all of us) do with this learning? Of course, all of the factors are critical to success, but after seeing these results, how can the focus of our efforts not start with ensuring the excellence of our performance and finish with never letting our clients down? I know I’m going to try never to forget.

Thanks for sharing time with me, and once again, thanks to so many of you for your interest and participation.


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant, McDermott & Bull Executive Search
Cell: (714) 356-1949 Office: (949) 753-1700 ext. 310
2 Venture, Suite 100 Irvine, CA 92618

1 Response

  1. We all know trust when we see it or feel it or smell it (literally), for trust is very mammalian. We seem to be born with a special sense for estimating the trustworthiness of other people or groups of people.

    For whatever reason, we seem to trust some people right away (likely just a few), while all others have to earn our trust. You know what I mean. Right away, we trust some individuals and it may be hard to explain other than it feels OK to do so. And, sometimes we are right and sometimes we are wrong.

    Would you buy something from someone you don’t trust? Most people won’t. Studies have shown that lack of trust may disable a sale more quickly than any other factor. So, what is trust? In my words, it is the feeling you get from someone when what they say equals what they do. You come to this conclusion by some initial sense or by monitoring their behavior. You can observe it by watching what people say and do; I guess it is kind of like keeping score. We do this whether we are aware of it or not.

    For salespeople trying to crack a new account, building trust can be time-consuming and difficult. In most instances, trust is earned by making promises and by delivering on those promises. It may take awhile.

    Think of some examples of people that seem trustworthy: Mother Teresa, former President Jimmy Carter, kindergarten teachers, firemen, and former network anchorman, Walter Cronkite. For many, we have learned to trust them because of our past experiences with them. We find their behavior consistent, reliable, and acceptable.

    How about used car sales people, gang members, most politicians, and insurance agents? Most of us don’t trust these people. We have learned not to trust them because of their behavior.

    So, how do you demonstrate trustworthiness?

    • Be specific in what you promise and only promise what you can truly deliver.
    • Use lots of eye contact.
    • Speak slowly and clearly.
    • Listen and repeat back what the other person wants, “So, let me make sure that I understand; what is important to you is . . ..”
    • Do exactly what you said would you would do. No exceptions.
    • Report back to the person that you had made the promise and tell them what you did. This confirms your commitment and this communication is a further demonstration of your trustworthiness.
    • If you did not meet your commitment, tell them immediately; this disclosure is the behavior of a trusted person. Don’t try to hide the mistake or delay in telling them; you are certain to get caught and then you will have lost any chance of building a trust-based relationship.
    • Repeat until you are trusted; this may take awhile.

    For a business, earning a prospect’s trust follows the same formula. Cracking the trust barrier with the new customer is all about frequency of contact; every single contact is an opportunity to demonstrate your firm’s trustworthiness by doing what you promised when you promised. But, you must be patient. Studies have shown that it can take on average 16 to 20 contacts before a customer feels comfortable in buying from a new provider. This is why large consumer products firms pour millions of dollars into advertising; they know that they have to invest in getting to know their new customers.

    Keeping the trust of the current customer is all about maintenance; it is the responsibility of the provider to deliver the goods on time as promised. Nothing will unravel the established trust as much as promising to deliver something that could not be delivered; worse yet, is hiding the fact, lying about it or making up excuses. After you lose trust, getting it back is harder than starting from scratch.

    My advice? Do the right thing.

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