I asked this question on LinkedIn and wanted to share this answer (although there will probably be more answers to share - the response so far is very thoughtful). So, without further ado, here we go...
Question: My question is primarily around IT Services (consulting, managed service, outsourcing, etc.). I would like to know what others believe the the real value a Service Provider brings to their customer. I read a far amount of analyst reports, trend reports, "what's next" reports, etc. but what they lack is substance in what buyers see as value. At the highest levels, it really boils down to "better, cheaper, faster" - what does that really mean? Just curious what the larger group has to say. Thanks!!
Answer from one of my friends on LinkedIn -- I actually went to college with Scott and just recently reconnected via LinkedIn: Most service providers "hear" better, cheaper, faster when interacting with their clients. But, more times than not, what the client is really wanting (and what actually keeps them coming back for more) is honest, open communication, met deadlines, and quality results.
All to often when normal mistakes happen as a matter of course during a project, service providers will spend way too much time providing reasons for a delay and what the client "hears" are excuses, blame, diversion, and dishonesty.
If more service providers knew how simple the secret to good client relationships really is, they would be astounded. Often five little words are all that's needed to put a project back on track; "I'm sorry. We screwed up."
It's so damn refreshing to hear that out of anyone -- even in our personal relationships. When those words are used by a service provider, then followed up with rapid recovery and tangible progress, it buys massive amounts of goodwill.
Also, service providers often mistake "good communication" with "lots of communication". Clients love not being pestered by service providers, but they absolutely loathe service providers who "go dark". An email on Friday that outlines accomplishments on objectives lined out on Monday is sometimes all that's needed or wanted. But, even though four phone conversations during the week explaining that "if the client's specs were only better, the project wouldn't be slipping" might be an example of lots of open communication, in reality it makes the client wish they had never engaged the service provider in the first place.
Bottom line: Ask questions and listen as much as possible on the front end, gather specifications to the Nth degree, be able to say no to unrealistic deadlines and be prepared to walk away if the project is wrong for your team. Then move fast, stay focused, remain visible, demonstrate progress, communicate consistently with information that matters to the client (not the service provider) and when the inevitable slips occur, own up to them quickly, apologize (it's not a sign of weakness), then fix it and move on. Then hit deadlines with quality results.
Managers lose their jobs when projects are late and/or over budget. It's serious, life-changing stuff to them. If service providers realize that, tap into it, and do their part to make the manager successful at their job, they'll get all the repeat business they can handle.