The Boss Should Strive for Positive or Neutral, Never Negative!

I received a phone call from The Boss who was struggling with a problem customer. I asked for more details and found out the rest of the story. The Boss’ company sells electronic equipment and provides technical support through the internet. Their salesperson sold a big job with a lot of parts and manhours. The customer paid for half of the job in advance — the standard for this industry. After a few trips to the customer’s location, the job was not completed because the technicians discovered several problems. Some were caused by the wrong parts being quoted for the job, and some were due to poor internet connectivity.

The customer wanted the equipment pulled out and her down payment returned. The Boss wanted to keep the down payment and was asking my opinion. I asked, “Was it possible to turn this negative into a neutral or positive experience for the customer?” I understand that a positive experience was a long shot, but a neutral experience could be had if The Boss got involved. My advice to The Boss was for him to meet with the customer at her company and explain all that his employees had done, which was a lot as they spent many manhours going back and forth trying to rectify the problem. The “root cause” of the problem was twofold: the company quoted the wrong equipment and the customer’s internet connection was poor. The Boss needed to “own” these issues insofar as his company ordered the wrong equipment and failed to test the internet connection prior to installing the new equipment.

For The Boss, going to the customer’s location was an important symbolic move. Having two owners speak together face-to-face is a big step in trying to solve a problem and make a profit. In these situations, I stress working to get to a neutral or positive position with the customer. The chances of a positive position – in which the customer writes a glowing testimonial — was frankly not going to happen here. A neutral position, or the customer becoming “content” with the outcome, was the goal. A customer who has a negative experience will talk about that over and over. How do I know this? Because we do it in our daily lives. Think about a negative experience you may have had lately. What do you tell your family, friends, and frankly anyone else who will listen? We talk about the poor service or poor quality of the product we bought. We very seldom spend as much time talking about the great service or high-quality product we purchased lately. If we do this in our daily lives, we will do the same in our professional lives. We don’t disconnect ourselves that way. We are who we are, always.

After a brief conversation, The Boss concluded we could get to a neutral with this customer. The dollars invested in trying to rectify the situation to date were lost. The dollars The Boss was going to spend to get the customer to neutral were an investment, much like investing in advertising. At the end of the day, The Boss and the customer came to a neutral position, and the negative in the market was silenced, at least in this case.

We are all in a competitive economy no matter in which industry we operate. Every business must work hard to get and keep its customers. I stressed to The Boss he needed to leave every conversation as either positive or neutral, never in a negative state. A negative can damage the company. It will continue to resurface and may live a very long life. Positive or neutral is what we strive for, and The Boss should not settle for anything less.