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Provider Engagement, Relationship Management

The provider / client relationship: Part I – bullying behaviors

In this 2-part series, the IA team explores some of the “bullying” tactics we observe between clients and technology providers, and potential solutions for healthier, long-term relationships. In Part I, we’re defining the three main bullying tactics. In Part II, we’ll present possible solutions.

What do you think of when you hear the word “bully”?

We usually picture the mean kid from school – the one who tried to take other kids’ lunch money. Bullying was fresh in our minds because of the sexual harassment training we recently completed at IA. The section of the course on bullying struck a chord, but this time we didn’t picture the cruel kid and their victim, but rather what happens when organizations find themselves “bullied” during business transactions. In our opinion, the latter kind of bullying is arguably as scary as what happens in schoolyards.

The investment and growth within the work tech industry has exploded over the years. And 2022 is already on pace to break new global records. SaaS technology providers have introduced countless innovations in organizational functionality with cutting-edge user interfaces, all with the remarkable ability to scale workplace and people processes. It’s never been a more competitive or noisy HR & Finance technology market. Our clients eagerly embrace the world of the cloud and its new frontier of possibilities for making work easier.

But there’s a catch. The SaaS landscape has also introduced and resurfaced some…complications. We notice some technology providers providing more than an HR or Finance system – they act like bullies, too.

Bullying behavior hurts clients and the potential long-term partnership with the provider beyond repair.

And no, we’re not trying to be hyperbolic, make a blanket accusation, or be a bully ourselves. We instead want to shine a light on our observations with the hope that it fuels the dialogue for happier and healthier client/provider relationships. Since bullying shows no signs of stopping, it’s time to examine it head-on.

Here are the three bullying behaviors we see:

  1. Just get the sale
  2. Just get them implemented
  3. Just hand them over to service

Bullying Behavior #1: Just get the sale

Ever heard a sales team overcommit a technology system during the sales process? Yeah, we have, too.  Not only do sales teams sometimes promise the system will solve all of an organization’s pain points, they also suggest their “out of the box” solution renders the need for process optimization obsolete.  

When organizations question how the solution might handle a specific use case, the sales team simply says, “Trust us – it can do everything you need it to!” as if it was silly of the client to question the solution’s capabilities.

Over-selling combined with a lack of listening is bullying behavior. It is both disappointing and costly when the sales presentation doesn’t match what the tech can truly offer, and it is inappropriate to make a potential client feel like they’ve done something wrong in asking a question. Yes, sales teams will do what they can to convince an organization that their solution is the best choice, but the way they do that should be both ethical and professional.

Bullying Behavior #2: Just get it implemented

System implementations are not what we would call “fun.” In fact, we think they’re awful. They consume an inordinate amount of an organization’s time and resources and tend to cause a significant amount of disruption. The worst part is the lack of guidance from the provider, which is a bullying behavior.

The provider’s intent for implementation should be to guide their clients through it. It should be a process of trust, open dialogue, and direction from both parties because, a) Implementations are hard; and b) It’s a two-way street. Instead, there is a profound lack of consulting or advising from providers during the implementation process, meaning neither the provider nor the client are satisfied with the outcome leaving everyone exasperated, tired, and vulnerable.

Additionally, contracts are sometimes worded to absolve the provider from accountability should the implementation timeline slip due to client delays. This is another bullying tactic. Wouldn’t it be beneficial for everyone if providers told clients they’re making a mistake, and what the ramifications of that mistake would be if they made their process that way?  

Bullying Behavior #3: Just hand them over to service

Once a client has signed on the dotted line, their relationship with the provider is set in stone for the length of the contract. But providers are not always willing to put their fees at risk within meaningful service level agreements (SLAs), and the partnership immediately suffers as a result. Technology contracts tend to be a multi-year commitment, but the love fades quickly and morphs into bullying when the client doesn’t receive the resources of level of service promised by the provider.

We have front row seats to this too often, and truly poor customer service is a trend running rampant within the technology provider community.

It’s especially noticeable when clients transition from implementation to ongoing service. There is often no continuity between the two teams, and miscommunication leaves the client feeling like they’re on a merry-go-round of frustration. Too often the inner workings of the client are lost in translation between implementation and service, and that multi-year contract starts to feel like a mistake.

Moving forward

Bullying behavior in the provider/client relationship is a multi-faceted, complex topic and it’s one that a simple blog post can’t solve on its own. However, it’s an issue that impacts everyone – and it will take everyone to find the right path forward. In Part II of this series, we’ll dive into what we believe are key ways to do just that.


Written by:

  • As a Senior Advisor at IA, Corrina is instrumental to the success of projects by listening deeply to stakeholder needs and crafting transparent plans to achieve objectives. Throughout her career, Corrina usually becomes the “go-to” guru on emerging trends because of her obsessive reading. She threads the voice of the client in all of her work, and fervently believes authenticity is the key to successful plans. Corrina has been featured on several solution provider podcasts and webinars, BenefitsPro, and various local SHRM chapter events.

  • Kimberly Carroll loves change and helping others through her role at IA. Kimberly’s clients look to her as a sounding board, therapist and mentor. She is passionate about change and using her background to influence HR leaders to truly transform their organizations.

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