All it takes is a bad supplier to get my early-career dander up again. It doesn’t happen often; better industry suppliers and my own selection process usually serve to insulate me. There’s also a comfort zone that comes from dealing with particular people over the years and the level of trust that that engenders. But new needs arise, companies consolidate or go under, and businesses grow into new categories. There are times when the supplier search is on—and that search can be both rewarding and frustrating.

I’m spoiled, admittedly. I favor long-term relationships rather than trying to chase the rate monster. I don’t think of it as complacency so much as a definition of value. To me, grabbing the super-low teaser offer just means you’ll have to watch carefully for “rate creep,” because that favorable rate can expire, modify or default to the highest one if there’s any deviation from the terms of the offer. Most of us have had to deal with credit card processing gotchas, fluctuating insurance rates, and phone or cable shell games. I personally hate the process, and I begrudge the time spent checking, comparing and negotiating. But that’s me. I know people who just love the gamesmanship of calling the cable company to quit just so they can lock in another good deal from the retention staff. Honestly, I’d rather spend my time making music.

Still, there are times when you have to make a change and push past the inertia of longstanding relationships. We switched our card processing to PayPal and, over the last three years, it has worked well for us: trouble-free, economical and transparent to our customers. (We’ll see how that plays out now that PayPal has officially separated from eBay and as they roll out chip readers this fall.)

We switched our payroll processing from Paychex to ADP earlier this year, having become frustrated by fees that rose every quarter and a host of ancillary charges. Even without the teaser rate that we got, the “regular” ADP rate was a savings—and we’ve gotten more info and support from ADP than in the last 10 years with Paychex.

Website Woes

Sometimes, though, my diligence falls short. Solely based on customer requests, we looked at e-commerce solutions. I don’t envision taking on the big guys with extreme SEO skills, but we keep getting inquiries from relocated customers, cross-town clients and collegiate former students for a way to buy from us online. Everything I looked at, though, was scaled beyond our means and needs, presented by a company I didn’t trust or offered a “solution” that would require me to spend a big chunk of my time as “IT Dude.” If I add 20 hours a week there, what happens to the tasks I previously did during those hours? I guarantee I’m not playing solitaire on my desktop while the sales roll in, y’all.

But a hosting company that serves some in our industry contacted me, offering a very generous deal that both was affordable and seemed tailored to our needs. After a couple of months of back-and-forth conversation, I signed on. I felt the solution was still rudimentary, but, stitched into our existing informational Web site, it might allow me to direct customers up to purchase online if they felt the need off-hours, or if they weren’t local enough to stop by anytime. It would be an adjunct to our brick-and-mortar store—not a big Web-beacon.

Here’s where the frustration kicks in: when the solution was ready to go live, I started walking through it…and I was extremely disappointed. Visually, it looked far worse than the demos I’d seen, with manufacturer logos dwarfing product pictures. And, a high percentage of the thumbnails were “image coming soon.” Dealer customization tools actually scrambled the layout. Searches would have completely bewildered my customers to the point of causing them to leave the site. I’m sure the shopping cart worked, but, with that kludgey front end, who would buy? Our expectations for online shopping come from the big guys, and we won’t get sympathy customers just because our site looks like a basement workup.

The relationship is tainted beyond
repair. Cue Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.”
Our industry lives by its relationships.

But it gets worse. I knew the guy who signed me up…and he left the company. Inquiries were met with, “Well, I’m in sales. You need to e-mail (not call) support.” That, rather than, “Let me forward your e-mail to support and expedite this for you.” Billing came on random dates, with unexplained amounts, and it took six weeks after the first charge to “get me into the billing system,” at which point the company admitted it had mischarged me. No one had an answer for anything, no one took responsibility and no one took action, until I pressed the issue. Yet, everyone had excuses.

In this era, that sort of third-world bureaucracy is insane. I have contacted our state government with less runaround. This from a small company that purports to support small businesses? If I wanted that kind of service, I’d have called Comcast. It seemed that it wasn’t just poor service but, rather, a company culture centered on the perceived lack of knowledge of its customers. “The site’s done. You just need to work on Search Engine Optimization and sales will come” is a joke aimed at people who think that e-commerce is magic and you simply have to cast the right spell.

The relationship is tainted beyond repair. Cue Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood.” Our industry lives by its relationships. We expect corporate runaround from the outside…not in our own yard. But, obviously, it’s there. Yet, we can’t let fear of making a mistake keep us from moving forward. So, we need to calibrate our BS meters and take a plunge or two, because we stand to gain more than we might lose. (My savings on the first two examples far exceed the cost of my third “learning experience.”)

Finally, we need to realize that our distaste for these tainted relationships is mirrored by our customers’ feelings. They expect the same level of support and trust that we crave. Perhaps, if we build the sort of relationship with them that we want from our suppliers, we’ll detect the best suppliers more easily. That would help BOTH ends of the business.

No more articles