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Pick a Customer Issue and Follow It Down the Rabbit Hole

Staying in the client services game by hunting for customer issues instead of reacting to them.

Down the rabbit hole
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I went to see business coaching guru Verne Harnish last month at an event sponsored by the Virginia Council of CEOs. I guess in a way this was the nerd version of seeing The Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin perform. Harnish is a living legend. He’s written game-changing books like Mastering the Rockefeller Habits and The Greatest Business Decisions Of All Time. If you spend any time around successful CEOs, you’ll hear his name liberally sprinkled in at cocktail parties and wine mixers. Needless to say, his advice is worth listening to. I filled up an entire notebook during the day-long event, but promised myself I would try to focus on completing one takeaway at a time to avoid the dreaded “seminar effect” where passion burns bright for a few days before getting shoved in the desk drawer.

Author and speaker Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish

One of Harnish’s exhortations stuck out to me: “Pick a customer issue and follow it down the rabbit hole,” he said. I loved this one. I’ve been looking for ways to engage with our team at Livewire and this one seemed perfect. Call it PTSD or a manic craving to be freed from customer issues, but the last few years have seen me actively trying to not directly engage with client issues. I suppose I could be forgiven for this after 20 years of being at clients’ beck and call day and night via text, phone, email, or chat. I suppose that desire to be rid of after-hours stress drove me to obsess about staffing 24/7 remote support, which ultimately led me down the path that resulted in the creation of Parasol with my amazing partners. After spending time being freed from customer concerns, I found myself detached and wondering how I could ratchet back in. Verne’s weekly “rabbit hole” task is perfect for me. Today I tried it for the first time.

I get a weekly report from our security central station. It shows activated and canceled accounts. Some weeks there are a great number of activations with no cancellations. Some weeks we’ll activate three and three clients will cancel. All that work playing to a draw. Some weeks we see no activations and multiple cancellations. Those are the worst. Today was one of those days. In fact, we had multiple cancellations from the same client. Worse yet, this client was my client. I handled them when they first called in only two years ago, just before the onset of Covid-19. Even worse, I knew they were having issues. One of their staff had emailed me in the summer of 2020 and asked that I make myself available. I emailed her back straightaway and said no problem, I could talk anytime. No answer. The thread went dead and I emailed her back every few months until today when I saw their cancellation.

Also by Henry Clifford: Have You Called Your Own Company Lately?

This next part may sound bad and maybe it is. The chain of events I just described are 100 percent defensible in the eyes of a job-minded employee, but 0 percent defensible in the eyes of a career-minded employee or an owner. I should’ve pushed harder to get the client on the phone immediately versus letting the issue fester. I reached out this morning via phone and text to the owner’s personal cell phone. Again, a job-minded employee would say something like, “I called the main number.” Are they wrong? No. However, they’re certainly not going to be happy with the outcome.

Fast forward to today. The owner called me back and I started by assuming we screwed up. “No man,” he said. “One of my employees just embezzled over $200,000 from me and wiped all my computers.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and offered to extend him credit until January. Maybe that’s a bad call. Maybe that’s how I would want a vendor to treat me in a similar situation. Operation Rabbit Hole is so far a smashing success.

The fish rots from the head. If I’m not running at issues like this with urgency, what does that signal to my team? That means I either need to exit from customer-facing issues 100 percent (terrible idea) or reboot my game. That’s exactly what this “rabbit hole” exercise is all about. Instead of reacting to customer issues every now and again, I’ll be hunting for them once a week. That will take me from a single-digit understanding of what’s going on to 52 unique steaming piles of opportunity.

What are you doing to chase customer issues down the rabbit hole?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.