Comment: Do you trust your technology vendor?

Last month I attended Aptos's Engage user conference. The vendor had a lot of things to announce, but the one that stuck with me the most had to do with trust. Trust with a capital T, actually. The question applies: do you Trust your technology vendor? And by trust, I don’t mean is their behaviour predictable, as in, "I trust my vendor to act in their own self-interest". That is not Trust. Do you really believe that your technology vendors are partners, in it with you to help create your success?

At RSR, we've said many times that an investment in a software solution should not be conducted like a transaction, it should be looked at more like a marriage. If you've bought the right solution, as a retailer you should be in it for the long haul, and you should be more interested in keeping your vendor partner for the long haul than in nickel and diming them for short-term benefits.

Part of the reason why it's difficult to maintain that perspective, especially when you're down in the trenches being pelted by solution providers as you try to navigate a selection process, is because of trust. When a vendor focuses on features and functions and gimmicky ways to get your attention, you start to respond at that level, with nickel-and-dime-y requests and levels of expectations.

It's true of vendors too – if the retailer insists on only evaluating current out of the box functionality with little to no consideration of the vendor's long-term vision or partnering capacity, the vendor is going to respond at a very tactical level. The problem doesn't live just in how retailers react to vendors, it's how vendors react to retailers too.

It starts with trust. But how do you build trust – how do you get the ball rolling? For Aptos, it started with an internal problem, a lack of communication between two groups on the same team, one in the US and one in India. They were a dysfunctional team, and Aptos responded by calling in a consultant, The Table Group, to help them get past their dysfunction. Step one in building trust is to make yourself vulnerable – to put yourself out there first.

And that is what Aptos is doing, not just internally, but with every interaction with customers. The company has so embraced the philosophy they learned from the Table Group that they are certifying their own people to be trainers in the system, and they are bringing that teaming mentality to their implementation projects. They've already brought it to aspects of their development process, and I suspect it won't be long before they bring it to all aspects of client engagement from the very beginning of the sales cycle to the last day the software is running.

Trust. It's an interesting, emotional, touchy-feely kind of word, and yet now, for Aptos, it is the foundation for how they interact with their clients. Not cloud, not cognitive computing, not Internet of Things. Trust. What's even better about how Aptos is implementing it is they own the first step in building trust – making themselves vulnerable, demonstrating honesty, as the first move. It's up to clients to respond in kind. Once a client takes that step, beautiful things can happen.

For myself, I've been saying for a long time that retailers undervalue the trust level they have with consumers. They undervalue how much high trust is worth, in terms of engaged, loyal brand advocates, and they completely under-estimate how much it costs them when trust is eroded or destroyed. They could learn a lot about the value of trust.

With Aptos's stake in the ground, the company is becoming a living test case for the value of trust. They're not the biggest solution provider in retail, and they've come from a rough ride over the last several years, having gone through some acquisitions and some ownership changes, some of which created the perception in the market that the products didn’t get the attention they deserved.

Whatever you believe about Aptos today, if you believe that great things can be accomplished when a group of people is committed to each other and working together toward the same goal, then you better keep an eye on this company. Because they're already actively working on their internal commitment, so much that they're starting to take that commitment to their clients – their partners.

I believe in the power of trust and commitment. You can succeed without these things, but such success is difficult to maintain over time. I'm very interested to see if Aptos can create enough trust with the company's customers to excel beyond peers in the industry – to prove the hard value of trust, if you will.

It's a lesson a lot of retailers need to learn – not just internally, but with their own customers too.

This article originally appeared as 'Do You Trust Your Technology Vendor? Aptos Engage 2016' on The RSR Research website. It is reproduced with the organisation's permission. 

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