Don’t Train with Customer Pain

I have lot of favorite books. In business, they range from cutting edge theory to some of the little “quick reads” that build a single management or behavioral point around an allegory.

One of the best in the latter category is The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Ken Blanchard and William Oncken Jr. As the title implies, it is a merging of Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager from 1982 and Oncken’s Harvard Business Review article “Who’s Got the Monkey?” from 1967, the most reprinted article in HBR history.

money down the drainLike most (if not all) of Blanchard’s book, this one has lots of white space, and call-outs that take an entire page. The best is “NEVER LET THE COMPANY GO DOWN THE DRAIN SIMPLY FOR THE SAKE OF PRACTICING GOOD MANAGEMENT.”

As owners, we unfortunately have to let employees make mistakes on our nickel. My friend Larry Linne, author of Make the Noise Go Away, tells this story.

An executive walks into the boss with a long face. “Boss, I screwed  up. I quoted that big job incorrectly. Instead of it being our most profitable work of the year, we will lose $100,000. If you want me to resign, I understand perfectly.”

The boss, like most of us, says something like “Bob, I presume you learned from your mistake, and it won’t happen again. We’ll just have to chalk it up to the cost of experience.”

Bob walks out, but an observer in the hallway would note that, as he travels down the hall, his step grows lighter and his head is held higher. He has dodged the bullet for his mistake, and the incident is over.

For the boss, the pain continues. It’s the employee’s mistake, but the owner’s consequences.

Sometimes, however, the opposite happens. The mistake doesn’t impact the company as much as it does the customer. How much of a learning experience should the customer bear?

A while ago I knew a CEO who had developed a great team. Her top executives were all very capable, both in their own technical areas and in developing people under them to take on more challenging projects. A customer was experiencing issues with her company’s service. Although her executives were on top of it, they let the responsible employee work through the issues at length to assess his problem solving skills.

The CEO called a halt to the process, and she quickly interceded to correct the situation. As she told me afterwards, “We don’t train with customer pain.”

I also have a long list of favorite sayings, and this one made it on a first hearing. As a mash up of the monkey and the CEO: “Don’t let the customer go down the drain for the sake of a learning experience.”

Enjoy “Awake at 2 o’clock?” Please share or pass it on to another business owners. Thanks!


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2 Responses to Don’t Train with Customer Pain

  1. Brent Lane says:

    You can usually recover from your pain, but not always from your customer’s discomfort – and especially if you do not know about it.
    With my firm, I would call every client every month just to say “How are we doing”? 99% of the time, I was met with appreciation. The other 1% sometimes involved yelling and occasional unpleasant suggestions. My response was always, “Thank you – now that I know about it, I can fix it.” And we always did.
    In 15 years our collection period was always less that an month and I never had a claim for any cause. I attribute it to good will and the ability to solve a problem before it resulted in slow payments, or worse, lost business relationships.

  2. I think they used to call it customer relationship management

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