21 February 2012
Created: 21 February 2012
Hiring a service provider is every bit as important — maybe more so — than hiring a new employee. Yet we often run into potential clients who have had a bad experience with another vendor and so are naturally skeptical that we can or will do what we say we can do — even though they’ve had no prior experience with us.
It’s more common than you think, as wellness vendors routinely over-promise and under-deliver. To these doubters, we always encourage them to talk to current or previous clients. And for those considering any wellness vendor’s service, here are some questions and things to look for as part of your evaluation and due diligence process. The goal is to end up with exactly the right provider for your organization.
- Can I talk to 3 or more customers you just started doing business with?
New customers will have a fresh perspective and can tell you the reasons they chose this particular service provider. You can ask about their process and compare it to yours to see if you’ve any holes to fill as you complete your evaluation.
- Can I talk to 3 or more customers you’ve served for 3 years or more?
It’s easy to keep someone happy for a year. But after 3 years the initial shine will have worn off and you can get a real sense of how well this provider serves customers long term. Unless you want to be switching providers annually, it’s important to get a comfort level that they’ll be able to meet expectations and deliver on their promise for more than a year.
- How long have you been providing this service and what is your greatest success so far?
You’re looking for a track record of success over multiple years with multiple clients. Ideally, the provider will have several examples of great success with organizations that parallel yours. If they don’t, that’s not a deal-breaker in itself, but may be a signal you need to dig deeper for a reason they’ve not had success in that area.
- How much repeat business do you get?
This is a crucial question because it tells you if they consistently meet or exceed client expectations. The challenge is verifying it. The only way to do that is ask for references and have direct conversations. Be skeptical of firms that lock clients into long-term agreements. You can structure agreements so it’s easy to renew, but it’s just as important that it’s easy to get out of it. If a provider is giving you a line about how they need 2 or 3 years to demonstrate ROI, which is why they need a long-term contract, run. Most everyone we know who has locked into long-term agreements come to regret it.
- What changes will you be making to this product/service in the next year?
Any provider worth their salt will have some enhancements planned a year or more out. But be careful of complete overhauls expected during your contract. You should have the option of maintaining the status quo or implementing the enhancements without leaving that to the provider’s discretion.
Each of these questions and their answers will lead to others. And it can be legitimate that a vendor may not wish to answer one or more for proprietary reasons. But when you add up all the questions answered and unanswered, you need to come away with a comfort level that this is a relationship you want to enter. And the only way to get that is to follow up on the answers with real current and former clients.
The greatest cost for a mistake made in selecting an inappropriate provider isn’t the dollars spent, but the lost opportunity in not working with the right vendor to move toward achieving your goals. You’ll get a new budget next year, but you’ll never get the time back you lost on the wrong firm.