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Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Importance of Pushback

We're a relatively small company as corporations go. Aside of our core vendors, like printers, we're just large enough to need first-class service but too small to be a priority customer. To get first-class service you want vendors who also service large accounts like Coke and Google. The problem is that, by comparison, our business will almost never be such a vendor's priority. The common result is that you get second or third priority, your account gets served by trainees, and the service you receive suffers. Managing in a company like ours makes it more important than ever to master the skill of pushback.

This month I've had issues at ADP, one sub-group at Vanguard, a confidential potential vendor whom we've asked to quote, one internal department, and (through my Homeowners Association) the Metropolitan Police. I'm just back off vacation and still in Margeritaville mode and just wanting to slide happily through the days; instead I'm having to periodically put on my "SOB" cap and push back on bad service. With the exception of Metro's Thin Blue Bureaucracy, service is improving on all fronts.

So how do you push back when you have no leverage? Actually, I find that leverage is not required and the solution is to simply stand up for yourself and your business unit. I know that sounds corny or simplistic, but I see it more as a simple and elegant solution. If service isn't satisfactory, just say so. You'll immediately get an excuse and simply don't accept it. Ask the person giving the bad service for a solution, and if they don't have one ask them who in their organization or chain or command would have one. When you ask that question, what the vendor hears is, "He wants to talk to my boss." Nobody wants that distraction or negative feedback, even from a small customer.

This actually works for pricing and billing as well. If you don't like the price of something, ask for a better one. If they don't offer a better one, ask them how long this price is good for since you'll need to shop. I'm always amazed at the price-lowering power of walking away and shopping elsewhere.

If you get a bill that doesn't sound right, ask for an explanation. If you don't agree with the explanation, ask for a better resolution. If the vendor rep doesn't have one, ask who in their company or chain of command you'd need to talk to for resolution.

There is amazing power in not accepting an answer with which you don't agree. That power is multiplied by persistence; not satisfied x not going away = results. Just by making the people whom you're paying aware that you're "not satisfied and planning to stay that way until its fixed" starts a chain reaction that almost always results in a better situation; better service, better pricing, and better overall value.

There are people in this world who get less than they deserve because they won't push back. If they have stewardship responsibilities in a company, church, or other organization then whoever they represent is similarly not getting what they deserve. To be an effective head of anything, your family, a department, a ministry, or even a company you need to master the skill of effective pushback. Go ahead, give it a try...you'll thank me later.

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