IS YOUR PROBLEM NOW YOUR CUSTOMER'S PROBLEM?
Once upon a time, the Fabulous Honey Parker and I were doing a home re-fi.
We were living in Los Angeles, and were buying a cute little cabin in the mountains of Utah. We had enough equity in our home that it seemed smart to use some of that equity on another investment.
The timing ended up being tight.
Three days after closing on the loan, we'd be closing on the cabin.
We would have the cash in hand just three days before being required to hand it to the sellers.
The loan docs showed up for our signatures, and...
The cash-out amount was 33% short.
We got on the phone with the mortgage broker.
We explained the situation.
He was stunned.
First, he apologized profusely.
Next, he said he was going to jump through every hoop possible.
He would attempt to fix the loan before the closing on our cabin.
And then he said, "If I can't make it happen in time, I will cover the shortage. I will write you a check from my personal account. You will be able to close without delay."
THAT WAS IMPRESSIVE
This man had made a mistake and was prepared to write us a five-figure check to cover his error until the error could be corrected.
He is not licensed to write home loans in Utah, where we now live. If he were, he'd have our undying loyalty for all our mortgage business.
In fact, we hadn't spoken to him in a couple of years, and we recently reached out to him for some re-financing advice.
Despite the fact that there was no business in it for him, he was happy to consult.
THIS MAN IS HIS BRAND
His business has a name that speaks to his values without being on-the-nose about it.
The brand is infused with his personality and ethics, and he lives up to it all in a way that engenders devotion and repeat business from legions of faithful clients.
When we had a problem, he went well above and beyond to correct it.
He had created the problem, and never expected us to pay the price.
It was impressive.
With that as a yardstick, something different just happened to us.
IT WAS EQUALLY IMPRESSIVE FOR THE WRONG REASONS
As part of a new business venture, Honey and I are buying a new and rather large vehicle.
We've been working with a dealer here in Utah.
There's one particular unit we need, and the last one was sold off the lot while we were looking at our options.
The last one available to us was with the dealer's outlet in Florida.
There was little room for negotiation, as the price was already rock-bottom. Extensive research showed that, at 35% below sticker, and what two-year-old models were selling for, we could probably buy the thing and resell it immediately at a profit.
We tried to grind the salesman, but we knew there wasn't much point.
WE ALSO FINANCED ABOUT 60% OF THE PURCHASE THROUGH THE DEALER
Our research showed that there were no better rates to be had out there.
So getting financing through the dealer would be more convenient for us, and would make the deal a little sweeter for them.
Then, we had to arrange the pickup in Florida.
We looked at the calendar.
Hmm. It's the end of the month.
Not only were we anxious to get the vehicle, but management in Florida would like a sold unit off the lot.
And the unspoken part? The sooner we got the rig off the lot, the sooner our sales guy would get paid.
If we didn't take delivery until next month, he wouldn't get paid until next month.
SO WE INCONVENIENCED OURSELVES
We paid more in airfare by buying plane tickets a week out instead of waiting two or more weeks, when the fares would be lower.
In sum: we'd paid close to the asking price on the vehicle, done the financing with the dealer (which just happened to be through the same credit union we would've used anyway), and expedited pickup to get there the last day of the month.
They're making money.
At least they told us the dealer in Florida would pick us up at the airport. That was convenient.
Until it wasn't.
Our sales guy called.
"I have bad news. They can't pick you up at the airport. It's the last day of the month and they're too busy. You're going to have to take a cab or an Uber."
I PULLED OUT ONE OF HONEY'S FAVORITE WORDS
It's the "D" word.
I said, "I'm disappointed. We didn't grind you on the price, we arranged financing through you, we paid twice as much for airfare to get there by the end of the month to get it off their lot because it's better for them and, presumably, better for your commission check. So now this? I'm disappointed."
He began talking a lot, explaining all kinds of things about business already gone by, and I stopped him.
I said, "Please don't explain it. You're not making it better."
He said, "Let me call you back."
A FEW MINUTES LATER, THE PHONE RANG AGAIN
He said, "If they can't pick you up at the airport, we'll pay for your Uber."
As it should be.
Unfortunately, it may have been too little too late.
Welcome to a culture of cheap, and a culture of self-centered focus.
Those are not good qualities for anyone to reveal to a customer.
One of the last things any business should ever do is tell a customer, "We know you spent more than you had to, but we have to renege on this tiny portion of our agreement, and inconvenience you, so we can make more money."
THEY MADE THEIR PROBLEM OUR PROBLEM
Think about the mortgage broker who was going to write a five-figure check out of his own account to cover his mistake.
He didn't have to do that--but he was really smart to say he would.
We had a deposit on a house, we were preparing to close, and we could have easily lost the deal. The seller could have been unwilling to cooperate. Other people wanted the house. We just happened to get there first.
But after being a good and agreeable customer for the vehicle dealer, they could've queered a five-figure deal by not offering to pay $35 in car fare after deciding it was inconvenient for them to provide transportation they'd said was possible.
"It's the end of the month. We have to make more money. We offered to do this for you, but now we realize it's inconvenient for us. Sorry."
WHAT SHOULD THEY HAVE DONE?
The first words out of the sales guy's mouth after saying, "They can't pick you up," should have been "But, we'll pay for your Uber."
It would cost them less than .0005% of the entire deal, and buy them unmeasurable amounts of goodwill.
Instead, it's just a disappointment.
Maybe it was an honest mistake.
Maybe it was a lapse in judgment that doesn't reflect the true colors of the company culture.
One can hope.
Because right now, we're feeling just a little stung over the idea of not being worth $35 to these people who have taken an enormous chunk of change from us.
A BRAND IS INFUSED WITH A COMPANY'S CULTURE
A brand is a living entity pulsating with the company's behaviors and attitudes and beliefs and its respect for the customer.
There will always be problems inside the brand. It's a fact of life about doing business with human beings.
But when those problems become the customer's problems, that's when both the brand and the customer lose.
The moral of the story is: When your company has internal problems, make them your own.
Eat your problems.
Don't feed them to the customer.
You'll do better, and they'll come back.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.