“…to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.” ― Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
One spring, not too many years ago, I was sitting in the parking lot of a McDonalds in Hawaii, trying to save an angry customer.
Yes, I was on vacation in Hawaii. And yet, I was spending the day in a car, in the parking lot of McDonalds, the only place I could get a wifi connection. I was not on the beach. I was not surfing. And I was not drinking a piña colada. No.
I was editing versions of a slideshow to send to a customer success manager, so that he could present something that day to an unhappy customer. A customer whose yearly payment to our company represented a sizable chunk of our revenue.
Why did this happen? Was it a surprise?
No. In fact the customer had been angry about several issues for a long time. And we all knew it. But our leadership did not prioritize a fix. Instead, they asked us to present things in such a way that the customer would stop being angry.
I don’t think it was intentional gas lighting. Rather, I think it was an instance of magic thinking: if we ignore the complaints, if we put a good face on things, the customer will stick with us.
Turns out the customer didn’t. We lost them. So what’s the lesson learned?
First, if your customer is angry, believe it, acknowledge it, and know it won’t turn out well just because you hope or expect it will.
Second, don’t think you can pull the wool over the customer’s eyes. You can’t. And if you thought them leaving was a surprise, it’s time to find out what decisions are being made one level down. Enterprise customers don’t typically surprise you. The enterprise decision making process is usually slow, with lots of warning signals.
Finally, if you find yourself asked to make a customer happy by telling them something, rather than doing something to fix the issue, just say no.
In a better place now.
*Note: Any resemblance to actual events or companies is inadvertent. This post represents an amalgam of the author’s experiences rather than any particular circumstance.