Let’s Get Personal
By Peter L DeHaan
seems that lessons can be found all around us – life lessons,
business lessons, lessons of what to do, and lessons of what not to
do. I wonder how many of these learning
opportunities are missed because I am too busy, too caught up in
myself, or too preoccupied to spot them. The ones
that I do notice, I find instructive and beneficial. It
seems that whenever a principle, concept, or example is played out
before me in real life, that the theoretical becomes existent and the
obscure becomes comprehensible.
case in point is my printer. I am looking for a new
one. Not the printer that prints this magazine, but
rather my local printer who handles or more correctly, handled – my
business stationary and other printing needs.
had been using the same printer for 17 years – or what was
essentially the same printer. This bridged a time
of many changes. On my part, it transcended two
places of employment, with different office locations; on their part
it spanned three ownerships, a time of expansion and then contraction,
several name changes, and finally a merger. We had
stayed together through it all. Until something
began using this printer because they were close to my office, had
competitive pricing, and were accommodating and easy to work with.
These are astute business reasons for making a wise and prudent
vendor selection: convenience, price, and service. So
began my saga.
struck me was their collective friendliness. It
didn’t matter who I talked with, whether it was on the phone or in
person. When we conversed, they were always
friendly. The next step beyond friendliness is
acquaintance and finally relationship. I got to
know the owner, who never felt it condescending to wait on me – and
his key staff. We had a relationship. With
a relationship comes understanding, tolerance, and forgiveness.
Let me explain.
they exemplified the adage to “under promise and over deliver”
there were occasions when things did not go as expected. Sometimes
this was my fault, sometimes theirs, but we worked together for the
common good of our long-term relationship to figure out an acceptable
solution. I understood that they were in business
to make money, that ultimately they needed me to be a profitable
account; likewise they understood that I needed their product to be in
an acceptable and usable form. If we didn’t have
a relationship, instead of seeking our mutual benefit, we would have
sought our individual self-interest; we would have become adversarial.
relationship begets tolerance. Tolerance overlooks
the small stuff, the things that don’t really matter. If
the wrong paper was used, but didn’t affect its essential utility,
it was tolerance that accepted it. However, if the
paper selection was integral to its final form or function, then
reprinting was in order, and it was relationship that prompted their
desire to reprint and tolerance that gave me the desire to allow for
extra time. Lastly is the relational benefit of
forgiveness. If a deadline was missed, I would want
to be forgiving as a byproduct of our relationship. If
I needed to unexpectedly move up a routine project to a rush job or
needed to change a parameter in mid production, they would choose to
not only be accommodating, but tolerate of any lack forethought or
planning on my part.
day I walked into their shop. In the time that it
took me to stride from the door to the counter, three people
momentarily stopped their work, glanced up smiling, and cheerfully
greeted me by name. They were glad to see me and I
was happy to be there. It was Bob who approached
me. “We’re just like Cheers,” he beamed,
“We’re the printer, where everybody knows your name!”
He was right, they did know my name and that made me feel
welcomed and appreciated. Although I lack the
requisite first-hand experience to comprehend the importance of going
to a bar where one is known, I do understand the benefit of being
known and appreciated at one of my business partners.
and I got to know each other quite well over the years. Our
kids were both in marching band at their respective schools, giving us
a commonality and non-business point of connection. Although
I am not a hunter, I enjoyed hearing of his adventures in the woods
and his ensuing success or lack thereof. In like
manner, he heard about my business trips, weekend plans, and home
improvement projects. When Bob bought into the
business, he was quick to share his exciting news; now we had one more
area of connection and mutual understanding.
changed jobs and Bob’s downtown shop was no longer convenient for
me, but I kept going anyway. When he relocated to
manage a satellite store, I followed him there, rejoicing that it was
closer for me. Later, when a downturn in the
economy made it necessary for that location to be shuttered, my
loyalty followed him to a third location. It was
not as convenient, but the extra drive was worth it to see my friend
while ago, they “merged” with another company. This
resulted in yet another name change and a subsequent closing of
Bob’s satellite office. A month ago, needing to
have some envelopes printed, I returned to their original location.
I hoped to find Bob there and the other people who I had known
for so long. I was dismayed to see no one I knew
and for no one who knew me. They didn’t
understand my history with them that spanned decades and they made no
effort to be friendly or to get to know me. To
them, I represented an order, not a relationship; I was an invoice,
not a business partner.
not that these things are integral to having envelopes printed; they
are not, but they are a pleasant bonus. Having a
personal connection with my printing vendor does not have a direct
bearing on the quality of their output and does not affect the utility
of the final product. In a hard core business
sense, these things don’t matter.
do they? When I picked up my order, I was shocked
at the bill. Their rates had gone up a lot, but
foolishly I had not checked. I had given the new
regime the trust earned by old and was paying the price – quite
literally – for that lapse. When I began using
the envelopes I was again distressed. There were
problems with two of the first 20 envelopes that I grabbed.
A 10% error rate is not the quality that I expected or paid
for. Although, that ratio has grown decidedly
better as I have worked through the box, that initial impression has
stuck with me. In the old days, I would have called
up Bob and we would have worked something out, but now I did not know
whom to call – and didn’t really care. There
was no relationship any more, no real reason to complain. Mentally,
I was already searching for another printer.
I learned, what we can all learn, is to get personal with those whom
we do business; build relationships with them. Then
when an expectation is missed, you can work together to understand and
develop a mutually beneficial solution. If a minor
problem occurs, tolerance will win out and forgiveness can take place.
When the business moves, the name changes, and new owners show
up, it is the personal relationships that will hold clients close and
keep them from seeking out the competition.
get personal. In the long run, it is good business.
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