Whenever I have a disagreement with a client, I try to get the conversation into a phone call or face-to-face interaction as quickly as possible. Email and texting are used to recap conversations with very little new information introduced that could be taken the wrong way. In cases of conflict arising over email or text, we have a “two-volley” rule. If an email or text is sent in reply to a customer concern and the customer wants to continue the debate, we pick up the phone. I’ve never regretted picking up the phone and often regret what I decide to put in writing in the heat of the moment.
Earlier this week we launched our new commercial division, Livewire for Business. Part of the launch required our web development company to create a new section on our site extolling the virtues of buying our new products and services. Part of the scope turned into a larger system upgrade of the site. Before we did the larger upgrade, I asked our vendor if the upgrade would break anything (too much time as an integrator!). They replied it might, but that it could be fixed before it went live. “No problem!” I thought. Turns out the upgrade broke a small piece of functionality on our site (does this sound familiar to any of you?). I asked the vendor to fix it over email and he replied back asking me to authorize two hours of billable time to do the work.
In my world, you break something, you fix it unless you set other expectations with the customer ahead of time (while they said the upgrade might break something, they didn’t say the broken functionality would be repaired on my nickel). I replied back to the vendor letting him know I felt it was a warranty issue and that they should fix it at no charge. A few hours later, I received a terse email from the web vendor’s director of accounts (we’ll call him Mike) letting me know everything is billable all the time, and there’s no such thing as warranty work for them, even if they make mistakes.
This email caught me off guard and I replied, pasting in the thread where I asked about the broken functionality. Mike again replied back saying “too bad” in not so many words. I was livid. I immediately began composing an email back and then thought better of it. Seldom have emails sent in anger ever looked good 24 hours later. I then considered picking up the phone and calling Mike. I put the phone down as well, reasoning that cooler heads prevail with a night’s sleep. The next morning, I decided to call Mike’s boss, Roger (name changed — someone I’ve known for a few years) to give him some feedback about the interaction and ask him to remove Mike from any further interactions with our account. Roger took the feedback well and apologized for the interaction. I asked Roger to pick up the phone the next time they had any friction to discuss. He agreed, and we’re moving forward.
I can’t help but think of this same scenario in our own businesses. How many of our clients would tolerate being spoken to abruptly over email or text? Not many. We have to go overboard to deliver on an expectation of service that few can deliver. Is it wrong to expect the same from our own vendors? I don’t think so. That said, there are great lessons to be learned when the roles are reversed. We can better empathize with our clients and change our business practices to better cater to the way they want to do business with us.
Know when to stop writing and start talking.
Stay frosty and see you in the field.