Automation and Control Services Are Worth More Than a One-Time Cost

A Damaged Business Model: Long-Term Relationships Bring Intangible Benefits

By Jeremy Pollard, CET

What would you do if your bridges were burning?

Metaphorically speaking, bridges can be any connection between two points, people, events or data. I refer to people in this case and the business bridge that exists between the user and the supplier. That reliable old relationship seems to be in a dire state these days.

I’m finding a reckless panic in this bad economy that has people stomping all over the relationships they’ve built over time, as if they don’t mean anything.

Case in point: I’ve done work for a local company for more than 13 years. They call me for programming, design, training and, most importantly, troubleshooting when their in-house people can’t solve a problem.

We have had a great relationship. They call, I get the work done, I invoice and they pay. All is good, and all is fair.

We’ve had projects that needed to be carefully quoted, but, all in all, they know me, they trust me and they know I get the job done. Until now, that is.

What I really can’t get my head around is how important a few dollars are, relative to a long-term relationship. They obviously think the dough is more important.

You also would hope that if there were competing bids for similar service that were a small percentage lower in price, the customer would call you about it, to be clear about your proposal and, out of respect for the long-term relationship, be clear on the situation at hand.

I don’t suggest that any customer dismiss a competing quote, but if a company knows my abilities and knowledge from firsthand experience, I would think they would want to talk about it if I came in a few bucks too high. Maybe I’m building myself up too much, but you know what I mean.

I was shocked that I never got a chance to do anything about it.

The relationship is damaged. Beyond repair? Probably not — I like doing work for one particular individual, but the benefit of any doubt is gone.

I often spent extra time doing and explaining things to their inside people and didn’t charge them for that. Poor business decision?

Another time, I was asked to go in and help them with a new piece of equipment. It was causing downtime and production shortages. Because of the relationship, I rescheduled other work to accommodate their request. I spent two days and only charged them for one-and-a-half. While they didn’t know that, I felt better about it because the work wasn’t fully completed.

The work was done last October, and the invoice was delivered in March. Two months later, no check. Now there could be various reasons why this has happened. I don’t think I did anything to tick anyone off, but I haven’t asked.

This customer has changed course in relationships. No longer do they care about anything long-term. They’ve concluded that there always will be someone to help them, as long as they are willing to pay. I can’t understand why automation services are being treated in the same way as getting a room painted.

Is it the economy? Desperate companies doing desperate tings?

I worry that many long-term relationships can be and will be destroyed if our methods change from the way it used to be to one of burning bridges, slashing and trashing and an all-about-the-cost mindset. If we take a more-caring approach to our business, we’ll be in better stead when the recovery occurs.

I’m in new project discussions with another client who does recognize and value our long-term relationship. For them, it brings comfort to their operations by knowing they have an expert in their corner. Their needs are changing, and they want me to be part of the change process. For them it’s more of a let’s-make-this-happen scenario. We will be successful.

I know bridges can be rebuilt and fences can be mended. But many shouldn’t have been broken in the first place.

Jeremy Pollard has been writing about technology and software issues for many years. Publisher of The Software User Online, he has been involved in control system programming and training for more than 25 years.

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