At Your Service: You customer relationships have to be win-win
A customer we’ll call “W.R.” came to me as a referral from a business coach I have known for about 10 years. I thanked her and went to work with the new customer. Something seemed a bit strange right from the beginning as he was hesitant to divulge who he had dealt with before, even though he was very unhappy with the results. When I see a red flag, I always investigate.
When I finally found out who it was, I immediately called my competitor, Joe (it’s good to be friendly with competitors), to ask him about W.R. I actually see this competitor quite a bit so we are fairly open with each other if we see something cool in the marketplace or if there is an issue that needs to be shared. Joe informed me that he chased this customer for a year for him to pay and pick up the finished product. Joe tried to deliver to him or meet with him but the guy just said he was busy or out of town. He eventually did get paid but W.R. told Joe he no longer needed all of the sizes he ordered because one of his employees quit. Most logical people understand that once you embroider a logo on apparel, we cannot take it back. Joe told W.R. this and he reluctantly took it.
I set out some boundaries with W.R. after telling him about my discussion with Joe. His version was slightly different but he did say it was about eight months before he picked up the order. We agreed he would pay in full when the order was placed and if there were any issues, I gave him my word, I would fix the situation.
Everything went smoothly on his first order. He placed a second order for some safety vests with two logos. One on the front and one on the back. I completed the order and he picked them up. He was supposed to bring back one sample to me but forgot it, so I agreed we would meet up in the next week or two. A month later he calls me to say that I shorted him one vest out of the six that were ordered. I check my paperwork from the supplier: six pieces. I checked my invoice from my embroiderer: six pieces. I called him back and said, “W.R. I have checked again and everything was correct on my end. It’s not really fair for you to come back one month later and say I am missing one piece. It would be like me going into a retail store, buying six t-shirts and coming back a month later to tell them they forgot to put one in the bag. They would laugh at me!”
W.R. then changed his tune. “Russ, I was mistaken. There were six vests in there but one was a small which was supposed to be a medium.”
I apologized for the error and arranged to retrieve the small and get a new medium one in. Something just didn’t seem right though, so I called Joe again. He checked his order from over a year ago as it was the same product I had sold W.R. The piece W.R. wanted to not pay for with him was a size small. The red flag went up again!
When I met with W.R. I asked him, “Are you sure this was a vest I did for you W. R.?”
“Yep, I only opened the box a month after you gave it to me so it couldn’t have come from anywhere else!”
When he handed me the vest from the box, I immediately held it up and said, “So, W.R., all the vests I did had two logos on it. This one only has one on it…just like the one Joe sold you and you tried to get him to keep. Anything you want to tell me?”
I usually give my customers the benefit of the doubt and for most I would gladly have brought in a medium vest and just moved on. What I didn’t like here was someone lying to me and trying to pull a fast one over on me.
W.R. was very upset that I was accusing him of lying but in the next breath said he made an honest mistake and then he turned and walked away.
Relationships with our customers and our suppliers need to be a win-win situation. If you see a red flag, investigate before you take on a new customer. It might not be worth your time to deal with them. The customer isn’t always right and sometimes we need to fire them!