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
black@mbsearch.net www.mbsearch.net http://www.jeffblackmcdermottbull.blogspot.com/