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Unhappy Clients and Their ‘Jump to Conclusions’ Mats

What to do when a longstanding customer accuses you of price gouging.

I had a strange experience this week. Of course, I run a CI business, so strange experiences only happen on days ending in “y.” This particular Twilight Zone encounter took a page straight out of the movie Office Space. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading this immediately, watch it, and report back here. Seriously. Are you still here?

Did you watch it? Good. Did you laugh your ass off? Double good.

In the movie, middle manager Tom Smykowski invents a new game, explaining, “It’s a ‘Jump to Conclusions Mat.’ You see, you have this mat, with different conclusions written on it that you could jump to.” His coworker immediately pans it as “the worst idea I’ve ever heard.” Writing this feels a bit like explaining a comic strip or “Where’s Waldo” illustration to someone.


Let’s get back to the blog, shall we? Anyway, there I was, minding my own business, when out of the blue came an email from a longstanding customer expressing buyer’s remorse after we’d completed a large project for him. We get questions all the time from clients about why things are so expensive, etc., but those usually happen before the sale. This one was unusual in that it came months after we finished the system. The email went on to accuse me of taking advantage of a longstanding relationship to price gouge the project. I was taken aback. I’ve always tried to do right by my clients and integrity is a core value I hold most dear. Being accused of dishonesty cut me deeply and hurt like hell.

Also by Henry Clifford: Experience Is the Best Teacher

I tried to connect with the client, but I was rebuffed and informed that he’d shopped the project to multiple competitors and they could’ve all done the work for substantially less money. I began to wonder where he was getting his information from. I attached our scope of work to an emailed reply and asked him for a phone call to talk it out. He refused. I texted. Same thing. I then decided to let it go. If he didn’t want to talk it through and had his mind made up, what other options did I have? He did, however, keep emailing me back, which was encouraging. Over the course of a few replies, I deduced he hadn’t actually opened the PDF scope of work I’d sent him earlier. I sent the scope of work again to him and challenged him to bid that work SKU for SKU, knowing the price would be different from my competitors, but probably not off by much.

Here’s the crazy thing, if I’d followed our process, this might have never happened. Our project workflow calls for collecting a design retainer, presenting a detailed proposal, and then encouraging the client to shop it around. Because I had a longstanding relationship with this client, I forwent most of those steps and just plunged headlong into designing and getting the client bought in on a vision and large number. I broke my own rules and paid the price.

Also by Henry Clifford: Tapping Into Your Company’s Hive Mind

I still haven’t heard back from my client to see where this will go, but when my integrity is on the line, I’m going to work hard to make sure that I keep my good name intact.

What do you do when clients get out their “Jump to Conclusions” mats with you?

I hope to write a follow up letting you know how it all turned out.

Stay frosty, and see you in the field.