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Stabbing Each Other Offscreen

Do your customer-facing employees know the value of presenting a unified front?

My irrigation system has been a little needy lately. I’ve gone from having a single lawn vendor take care of all my lawncare needs to specialty vendors responsible for spraying chemicals, cutting and trimming, and, you guessed it, irrigation.

Irrigation – Lawn Sprinkler
Getty Images

From what I can tell, servicing irrigation systems involves coming out in the Fall with an air compressor to blow out the lines so they don’t freeze and another visit each Spring to start things up, check for leaks, and make sure all is ship shape. I’ve been watching this shuffle take place for well over a decade with a head breaking every now and again or sometimes needing to fix a line. No big deal. I write a check and move on.

Aslo by Henry Clifford: Are You Leaving Customers With A Bad Taste In Their Mouths?

This peaceful dance was interrupted last month when I received a call from the irrigation folks letting me know I had a leak in the backyard and would I like an estimate to repair it? “Of course!” I replied. The irrigation company then sent out another technician a few days later to survey the situation and deliver my estimate. My phone rang again. This time I was told there wasn’t a leak at all, that it was something completely different. “The other guy is new and we’ve been having some issues with him on other jobs,” he said. I know he meant well, but this had the opposite effect intended. This technician put his own ego in front of everything else and threw his colleague under the bus. I asked him to have someone from their company call me to get the issue escalated and resolved. I received a call a few days later from a very nice woman who immediately understood what had taken place. I told her I ran a contracting business and understood. She apologized and offered to send out “the main guy” to put a period on my project once and for all. A few weeks passed and I followed back up. They apologized and pledged to have someone out to see me the next day.

I received a phone call from “the main guy” when he was on his way over. He didn’t seem to have a handle on the details of my job or the fact that this was an escalation. I connected back with the nice woman from earlier and she assured me he had things in hand. I decided to let go and give him a chance to succeed. I returned home that afternoon to find a handwritten note on a door hanger letting me know no leaks had been found. While I was glad to hear that, it still didn’t account for all the standing water in my backyard. A few days later I received an email that cleared things up. While they hadn’t found a leak, they recommended digging another drain in my backyard to get rid of the standing water.

Needless to say this puzzled me since I’d lived in the house for 14 years and why were we getting standing water all of a sudden? I called “the main guy” and quizzed him a bit. He let me know the water table had risen higher in the last few years and the heavy clay soil was saturated at max level. I also remembered we just installed a new AC unit on the first floor. My lawn vendor said each zone drips 30 gallons per day from the condensation lines. That’s 90 gallons per day dripping into the backyard. They offered to make the problem go away for $2000. I approved the work and hopefully it all works out and doesn’t turn into another blog.

Also by Henry Clifford: Bridging the Gap Between “Solid” and “Killing It”

Why did I just relate this long, convoluted tale? The analogs to custom installation are nearly perfect. How often do your technicians throw each other under the bus? How many times have you overheard your employees airing dirty laundry within earshot of the client? It’s vital that we stress the importance of stabbing each other offscreen. While it might feel good in the short-term to please our own ego, the company takes a hit because the client no longer trusts us to do a good job. Every time we question another employee’s approach in open court, it shakes customer confidence, and we have to now spend four-times the time to calm the client back down, potentially make a personnel change, or even needlessly discount the job.

Do you talk to your employees about the importance of presenting a unified front to your clients and litigating differences in the van or back at the office? What’s worked or not worked for you?

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.