I don’t take pleasure in firing vendors or anyone for that matter though this may be the exception. ‘Michael’ handled our payroll for years. Every year, I watched our fees go up with no advance notice or explanation so I inquired as to why his rates were outpacing inflation.
I was told it’s because he has the “best payroll staff in the industry” and therefore he increases their pay each year. He went on to say that he was competitive and customers who have left him often came back because other firms “typically screwed things up.” Annoyed, I dashed off a terse email to our CFO saying that’s the kind of thing people say when they don’t have a real reason and then I hit send a bit too quickly. Only I accidentally sent it to Michael.
Instead of picking up the phone and calling me to better understand why a longtime client was upset or taking a moment to wonder how other clients may react, he immediately responded with an email that said “Please find a new payroll company.”
Slightly embarrassed, I picked up the phone and called him. No response. I emailed an apology. No answer. Our CFO tried to patch things up. No luck. I realized there are numerous teachable moments from this incident that can be applied in a wide variety of situations.
Teachable Moment #1: No Knee Jerking
If you’ve served a customer for a long time, instead of instantly reacting, take a pause and then initiate a conversation to better understand why the customer is upset. You might quickly repair the problem and use what you learn to improve relationships with other customers.
Given that didn’t happen, we found a new payroll partner. Yet weeks later, I received Michael’s monthly electronic newsletter. I scrolled to the bottom and opted out only to receive another email from him saying he needed more specifics so he knows what emails I didn’t want to receive. Annoyed again, I responded that I didn’t want any correspondence from him at all.
Imagine my surprise when I received a mass email weeks later after I had forgotten about the incident. This one invited those on his list to visit a booth he rented at a trade show. At the end of the email it said “this email was sent to a long list of folks in my contact list. If it doesn’t not apply to you, please ignore.”
Teachable Moment #2: Update Your Subscriber List
It’s important to go through your subscriber list on a regular basis to make sure you respect those who don’t want to hear from you. Additionally, electronic marketing is not about mass emails. Rather it’s about segmenting your list so you send the right emails to the right people.
So I opted out again only to receive another email from him. This one laced with sarcasm said: “With pleasure. Best of luck in your ‘public relations’ business.”
Teachable Moment #3: Stop the Conversation
I knew better than to keep the conversation going. I knew that I should simply mark Michael’s emails as spam. I knew nothing good could come if I responded, but I just couldn’t help myself. My email back to him said “I’m not in public relations.”
We’re communication coaches which is sometimes confused with public relations but it’s a nit and unimportant. I was purposely needling him; suggesting he should better understand what his clients do for a living.
He emailed me back.
“Whatever you do it shouldn’t have anything to do with people.”
Teachable Moment #4: Don’t Make It Personal
Clearly ignoring what I teach, I did the opposite and spit an angry email back. This one suggested he start thinking about his customers instead of himself before he sends obnoxious emails. I asked him never to contact me again.
But, since I was to blame for violating teachable moment #3, he immediately retorted that I had the market cornered on obnoxious emails and that he’s been very successful for many years and has no intention of changing the way he does things.
Teachable Moment #5: Get Over Yourself
Learning is or should be a lifelong process. That means learning from our mistakes and trying to see things from someone else’s perspective. But if you think that your way is the only way, you’ll react defensively instead of recognizing potential opportunities.
I came across a quote recently that said “Life is 10 percent of what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” We all react poorly at times. Even though the customer isn’t always right, as a vendor you work for them. When you take a moment to acknowledge and understand their concerns, you become more customer-focused instead of me-focused, which is the best public relations.