Business Lesson: Choose Your Partners Wisely

Photo courtesy of DRB62 on Flickr My wife & I began subscribing to the MetroWest Daily News back in 2002. At the time they published in the afternoons, so it was the paper I read when I'd get home from work in the evening. When we moved from Framingham to Westborough back in 2008, we opted to keep subscribing to the MetroWest even though it's Framingham-centric paper and there are probably better candidates for local news. As everyone knows, I'm a craft beer geek and always look forward to Norman Miller's Beer Nut columns on Wednesdays. If you're reading this and wondering why we subscribe to a physical newspaper in the Internet age, well, I'm not going to convince you why it's worth it. Suffice it to say we like the routine of knowing there's morning news in our driveway, and we also enjoy supporting quality reporting by paying that subscription fee. Of course, the subscription fee also funds the delivery of the paper. Which leads me to my story...

We enjoyed reliable delivery service for most of the 8 years we subscribed. Then, a couple months ago, our regular delivery person was replaced. It's still unclear to me whether it was just a new person from the existing delivery service or an entirely new delivery service. Apparently the MetroWest Daily News farms the delivery part out to a 3rd party, which I'm sure is much cheaper for them in the long run.  We knew the carrier had changed on that first morning when our newspaper wasn't there (we later discovered it in our neighbor's driveway). The next day we didn't get any paper at all and it wasn't in our neighbor's driveway either. In the days that followed we had some days where we got the paper, some where we got the wrong paper, and some with no paper at all. I grew accustomed to calling the MetroWest's Circulation Dept to report the problem. Within a couple of weeks I had their phone menu options memorized because I had dialed in so frequently (side note- why does one option say "to have your paper REdelivered, press.."? How can a paper be redelivered if it wasn't delivered in the first place??). It was not going well.

After several days of issues a MetroWest manager called the house to apologize. He gave us his direct dial line to call if we had further issues, and he even called on some days to check and made sure we got the paper. This was the GOOD side of dealing with the problem. Unfortunately there was a BAD side too. The delivery service itself called our house a couple of times. They were rude, abrupt, and apparently suspicious of our motives. On one call they implied that we were inventing the issues (did I miss the announcement that one can use accumulated newspaper credits toward their kids' college savings plans?). On another day when the service had already "redelivered" the paper because they'd missed the morning delivery, a 2nd driver showed up to give us a 2nd copy. When I politely explained that we'd already gotten the paper, the driver commanded in an annoyed voice "just keep it because I don't want to have to come back out here."

I'm guessing we had at least ten days of newspaper delivery issues over the course of 6-8 weeks. We're

Photo courtesy of aroberts on Flickr

not high-maintenance people, but our patience was wearing thin. Eventually we decided "1 more strike and they're out". That final strike happened last week when I went outside and found no MetroWest Daily News. I was tired of calling their circulation desk at least once a week, and I didn't understand why our service went from excellent to miserable so quickly. I made the final call to the subscription desk to cancel. When the woman I spoke with politely asked why, I made things very clear: "I love your newspaper, your staff has been great to deal with, but your delivery service has been awful lately." She immediately saw my list of calls and was very sympathetic. A manager is supposed to call us at some point, no doubt to regain our business. At this point I don't see that happening.

Here's what I learned from this whole saga:

  1. Don't take excellent service for granted. We always sent tips to our old carrier, but I would have sent more had I realized how much aggravation his reliability saved me.
  2. If you outsource any aspect of your business to partners, choose wisely. Partners share as much responsibility for representing your business as your employees do. Chances are your clients/customers won't make the distinction between a full-time employee and a partner when something goes wrong. More often than not, your business will pay for your partners' mistakes. If you don't believe me, just ask the MetroWest Daily News.
  3. If you or your company resells or performs a service on behalf of another entity, you should strive to represent them in the best possible light. This will help to differentiate you from other partners. If you end up making a poor impression, you risk costing them money. Go the extra mile and you'll be recognized and appreciated.

At CoreBlox we've been fortunate to be part of some productive strategic partnerships. I think a big part of that success comes from taking the lessons we learn as individual consumers and applying them to our business. This experience with my local newspaper has reminded me that when it comes to partnerships, there's no substitute for reliability and professionalism.

-- Newspaper photo courtesy of DRB62 on Flickr

-- Handshake photo courtesy of aroberts on Flickr