Customer is the king?.....hmmm.....not always, commitment to 'truth' through transparency and due process is.

By | 26th Jul 2013 | 4 min read

In any business, the relationship between clients and the service provider is subjected to the stress of disputes often. Businesses that deliver true value to their clients over a sustained period of time have mechanisms to resolve these disputes. Often they rely on certain thumb rules also. One such thumb rule is the adage 'Customer is the king.' At Zyxware, we believe that it is a thumb rule that can, in contexts of disputes, lead to sub-optimal results for the relationship and the parties involved from the point of view of effectiveness and more importantly fairness. Therefore, we have an approach that relies on transparency between the clients and us and a commitment to due process for dispute resolution. The approach has been in place before I joined Zyxware. My experience with Zyxware over the last two years has shown this to be extremely effective. The approach is also something that mirrors the approach of Gandhi during the Champaran Satyagraha.. The Gandhian approach entailed building detailed accounts of the experiences of the complainants in the presence of a British police officer. Highest standards of evidence were applied to ensure that there were no exaggerations or misrepresentations in these accounts.

In my rather short professional life span of 6 years, I have spent four in the non profit space and two in the for profit space. While in the former, the key challenge was to carve out a space for the 'beneficiary' in the decision making forum dominated by funding agencies, government bureaucracy and implementing agencies, in the latter, I come across the idea of 'customer' is the king. Of course, who holds the cheque book makes a big difference.

Within the commercial space, I think there is a continuum beginning with 'the client is always wrong' and ending with the 'the client is always right'. I guess most successful companies tend to find themselves in the latter half of the continuum. That does tend to bias decision making in companies and other for profit forms of organisations.

Keeping aside the complexities of power and 'everything is subjective and political', I think there is a problem in both the formulations above.What these formulations lead us to are rules of thumb which ease decision making. But it takes us away from the commitment to 'truth' and 'due process'. The side effect is heart burn for people who feel hard done by these politically correct thumb rules in a specific context.

Over the last two years, I have had the experience of managing vendors and being a vendor. And it has not always been pleasant. But in times of conflicts or disagreements, the first casualty tends to be the commitment to truth and due process. Often, there is no phase between the disagreeing parties to develop a time line of past events before getting into a discussion mode. It seems, the positions are all taken, defence is in place and accusations are flying left, right and centre before even we get to a semblance of agreement on what happened and what were the 'causal' factors.

In cases where a third party is engaged for arbitration, the due process is generally followed. However, in cases where the two parties are negotiating themselves, a construction of timeline of events and recording of it is given short shrift. Often there is no intent to do this.

Even in cases where there is an intent, it is often hampered by pressures of time. If intent and time are available, there is a third impediment by way of lack of proper documentation of transactions and exchanges between client and service provider on which the timeline can be created. A documentation which can be mutually agreed upon.

At Zyxware, our approach in our relationship with clients has been to build transparency into our systems and focus on enabling the construction of detailed and fairly accurate timeline for decision making and dispute resolution.

We build transparency by offering our clients complete access to our project management system with the possibility of knowing exactly what our people are doing in their projects. This has meant that people in Zyxware are often subjected to extreme levels of scrutiny by clients. But it has been a pleasure to note that our team here has risen up to the challenge and displayed a tremendous amount of patience in addressing the concerns of the client.

By enforcing documentation of transactions through emails, version control systems (code), project tracker and accounting systems, we are always in a position to build those timelines. In case of a dispute with a client, we are able to construct a fairly accurate narrative which helps us to stay focused on resolving the dispute and not descend into acrimony. Our experience has been that more often than not, we are able to gain the trust of the other party. But even in instances where it has not succeeded, the other party appreciates our approach and efforts.