The Beatings Will Continue Until Service Improves

Written by Todd L. Michaud
October 28th, 2009

Franchisee Columnist Todd Michaud has spent the last 16 years trying to fight IT issues, with the last six years focused on franchisee IT issues. He is currently responsible for IT at Focus Brands (Cinnabon, Carvel, Schlotzsky’s and Moe’s Southwestern Grill).

It amazes me how many business leaders treat their IT business partners poorly. Delivering IT services is hard, no matter which company you work for. IT is complex, and it breaks (at the worst times). IT people are not perfect. Does anyone really think that all of the yelling and screaming is going to help? The same people who wouldn’t think about giving anything but an “Exceeds” on a performance review have no problem screaming at a service provider over and over again.

Then there are negotiations. “You need to sharpen your pencil, I’m not paying this much.” Good IT leaders will work hard to deliver services at the lowest possible cost. But they need to be careful not to negotiate such a low price that the vendor will never be able to meet their expectations for service. Believe it or not, getting the lowest price is not always the right goal. By the way, if anyone is looking for someone to help negotiate a cheap, crappy IT service I know plenty of people who would rock your world.

I have somewhat of a unique perspective on this situation, because I have only been on the customer side of the table for the last 7 years. Prior to that, I was on the provider side. Believe me when I say that I have been part of more than one customer smack-down. Sometimes it is absolutely deserved (a recent incident with a service provider prompted me to write this article); sometimes, however, it is just standard operating procedure. I am talking about those people who have unrealistic expectations and go off the deep end whenever the smallest thing happens. There is a time and place to express frustration or even anger. But done in perpetuity it not only loses its impact, it works against you. (I don’t know about you, but the last person who I want to talk to is the one who always yells at me.)

I think that one of the biggest problems is having unrealistic expectations of a service provider. The three biggest expectation barriers are the “Expert Driver Syndrome,” the “I Don’t Get It Syndrome” and the “Everything Costs $1 Syndrome.”

Let’s start with the “Expert Driver Syndrome. ”Something like 90 percent of all drivers believe that they are much better than the average driver (the same holds true for poker players). This is, of course, not possible. When it comes to IT services, I smile when I hear IT leaders say “If I had this in-house, we wouldn’t have these problems” or “If it were my team, it would absolutely be better/faster/cheaper than these knuckleheads.”

I hate to break it to these folks, but that is probably not the case. Let’s go back to my opening about IT being hard. The fact is that at some point, somebody (maybe even the same person making the comments) chose this particular service provider because that person believed the provider could supply a high level of service at a reasonable cost. Typically, this vendor was chosen after closely considering all of the competitors in the same space. So what makes some IT leaders feel that internal resources could do a better job?

I am realistic about my ability to attract and retain top IT talent when IT is not something that is core to a company (we sell food). I believe a service provider that is good enough to win my business will have attracted some of the top talent in that particular technical arena. Technical people tend to migrate to where their talents can be best utilized. My goal is to find the provider that best meets my price/value needs and to support that provider with a staff who is good at extracting as much value from that provider as possible. There are things that it makes sense to keep in-house. But IT is not a core competency of my organization, so my goal is to keep that in-house list pretty small.

I absolutely don’t buy the “If it were internal resources they would care more” rebuttal. Unless you really purchased the bottom-of-the-barrel service, your provider cares as much–if not more–about supplying the highest level of service. Losing a client may have a dramatic impact on the company’s future, and that is motivating to the team. I know. I’ve been there.

Let’s say that the “Expert Driver Syndrome” prevails, and the IT services are brought in-house. Of course, part of the justification for this change will be that “It will be better if we do it ourselves.” What happens if it isn’t any better? If the people providing the service worked for the IT leader instead of the service provider, would they still be treated the same way? Would the IT leader take that tone of voice or send those e-mails? I believe that most would not. So why is it any different? In both situations you are paying people to provide a service, so why in some situations are people treated differently? Is a purchase really that different from a hire?


4 Comments | Read The Beatings Will Continue Until Service Improves

  1. Don Stitt Says:

    Hello Todd,

    Well said, and I understand the point.
    I believe Elvis said it best,” I need you, I want you , I love you”!
    We need to do all that we can to make our IT service sucessful. Those that do not perform can be addressed in the proper venues.
    Lead on!

    Many thanks,
    Don Stitt
    Schlotzsky’s / Cinnabon
    SFAC President
    Amarillo, TX

  2. PoS Manager Says:

    Set aggressive, but realistic goals and expectations from the start. If they are not met, deal with it constructively, yet firmly and next time (if there is a next time) make sure the same situation does not happen again by doing things differently.

  3. Pete Reilly Says:


    I’ve spent time on both the vendor and customer side as well. I can tell you that having been on the vendor side, getting aggressive (as opposed to being assertive) will work against the customer over time.

    As you state, no one wants to talk to the person that is angry and unreasonable all the time. Ultimately, you will have the worst vendor employees on your account(why would I put my best people on it, you will just make them want to quit), and when the time comes for a major upgrade or service you are not going to get the best price because I know I need to build in padding to deal will all the hassle later.

    In my experience the customers that got the best treatment were those that were assertive, but fair and respectful – imagine that!

  4. Todd Michaud Says:

    Great feedback.

    Pete, I hadn’t really thought about the cost of upgrades, but you’re right. I think that most IT leaders think, “I didn’t get as good of a deal as I should have on this round, so I’ll make it up when we do more work with them.” What if the vendors are thinking the same (but opposite)?

    PoS, the key to your comment is about setting expectations clearly. You need to drill it in right away to make sure it sticks.

    Don, Thanks so much for your support.


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