Aug 1, 2010

Oh, Honorable Customer...

Abigail and Dolley readers I am a metaphorical thinker.  My brain just seems to work that way and I am not sure exactly why.  I often draw parallels between past and present or draw upon my historical lessons and apply them to current situations.  I think it is relatively unique, since no one in my immediate circle of friends seems to do much of this.

My latest musings surround a large client where our corporate cultures just don't match up any more.  You see, my company culture says that I need to make money.  Their corporate culture says that, "I am the Boss and you are my Beaotch!"  They say this kindly and tactfully with the buzz word:  Partnership.

Beware folks of the word "Partnership" when it is excessively bandied about in a business meeting, by the client.  In my experience, if a customer insists they want you to be their "Partner" that usually translates into:

  1. I am going to continue to shop the competition and force you to give me the cheapest price for everything.  I don't care if you have invested human resources specifically designed to service my account, that is what partners do, because we are SO important.
  2. I will demand from you excessive reporting (that I will not read or action).
  3. I will not pay your invoices on time and when I do I will short pay them by any amount I deem necessary.  You will, of course, have to deal with my payment company whose clerks are recruited from Idiots Incorporated.  They will have not a clue as to what they are doing and what they are auditing.  You will need to spend hours on conference calls with them explaining that while the contract reads "Pick up" - "Inland Freight" IS the same thing and the invoice needs to be processed. 
  4. Accounts Receivable issues will be as a direct result of your inability to bill me correctly and will not be a reflection of my companies deficiencies in timely processing of invoices. 
  5. You will provide invoice copies and back up to me and my payment company three times for every invoice.
  6. You will do tons of free consulting, arrange tours and junkets, give me analysis, and you will provide this information to me at any time and as many times as I tell you, for free.
  7. You will treat me to fine dinners and gifts.
  8. I will immediately assume if something goes wrong that you are the culprit.  I will not show contrition or regret when you prove to me it is my own companies internal dysfunction that caused the problem.
  9. I will make you participate in useless process meetings.  I will never follow up on them or even provide you with one written word about a day long meeting.  Never mind that you spent $1000 in travel expenses to attend.  You are my partner.
  10. I will force you to assume all of the market fluctuation risks, well, that is only if prices go up.  That is your risk after all.  I will demand concessions, though, when the market goes down.  You are never really supposed to make THAT much money on me, I am your partner after all.
  11. I will expect you to be financially responsible for all of my products.  In spite of the fact, that as my vendor you makes a small pittance on each transaction and I and my customer are the principal parties of interest in the transaction.
  12. I will not take your advise and buy the requisite insurance and will expect you to pay me in full in the event of a claim, which I will report to you three months after the fact.
  13. I will blame you for every storm, every strike, every delay, even if it is the hand of God, as MY partner you should have processes in place that protect me from that sort of thing.
  14. I will mismanage my business and expect you to pay up - significantly and as often as I see fit.
  15. I will assign an accounting intern to scrutinize your invoices and will expect significant refunds for past over charges, regardless of the fact that my analysis is flawed and corrupted.  I will expect you to provide me with years worth of back up so I can prove how much you have been cheating me.  I will want you to do this at a moments notice and for free.
  16. I will waste hours of your most important and brightest people and then I will trash them on a regular basis, my unhappiness is of course because of them.
  17. I will expect that you will travel to see me on a weekly basis and fly where ever I deem our next meeting should be, I have no care that the entertainment costs, travel expenses, and extra services actually make me a "Looser" for your company.  I AM important and you WILL service me.
  18. I will not care if the market shifts thousands of dollars a unit, I will hold you to rates negotiated before the market went crazy.  I will ignore your missives about pending rate increases and then accuse you of breaking our contract when you are forced to pass them to me without my precious approval.
  19. I will not subscribe to your news letter that gives important market information, but will lambaste you when I am not made specifically aware of changes that effect my business.  
  20. I will impose on you laborious and detailed RFQ's.  During your presentation, I will bring up all of your short comings, bully and belittle you, and then leave the conference room without shaking your hand.
  21. In the end, I will hate you, because you will have failed to live up to the spirit of partnership and our NEW partner will be SO much better than you are.

So kind readers, all of the above made me realize I have been faced with this situation before.  When I was in the 11th Grade, my BFF and I started a house cleaning service.  We were, The Partners In Grime. We had been in business for about 6 months, working after school and doing really well.

Enter our new client... "The Chinese People".  It was a disaster from the beginning.  It was our practice to tell clients when we were selling our service that we only did, "Skeleton" cleaning.  Our prices were cheap and we were quickly in and out.  We requested that the house be empty when we cleaned because it was faster and more comfortable for everyone.  If a regular client needed us to do something special, every once in a while, we would do a "Special Request".

Chinese culture vs. American culture in the area of "Special Request" required a clarification that neither party knew needed to occur.

Every other Wednesday began to be dreaded with a fierce sense of, "Oh, I don't want to go THERE!"  You see, there was nothing normal about this client.  First of all, there were about 20 of them living in a 1500 sft house.  They did not leave when we got there and sometimes would just stay in the room you were trying to clean.  My BFF is a red head and a beautiful one at that.  I think I heard somewhere that red heads are thought to be witches in some parts of China.  The ancient Chinese Grandmother seemed to think so because she would follow my BFF around, sit in the dark across the hall, and chant in a low angry voice.  I suppose it was some sort of evil spirit repellent.  It was unnerving, to say the least.

One afternoon, we were complaining to another friend, and if memory serves me correctly, getting organically prepared for our "Chinese People".  Our friend laughed her head off at the story of the Grandmother and suggested we press our hands together with our thumbs on our noses, bow, and say, "Oh, Honorable Grandmother, shut the fuck up!"  It was one of the biggest laughs I ever had.

You see, what made the Chinese people intolerable was that they ALWAYS had a "Special Request".  Most of clients had never even had one, so we were ill prepared to say, "No."  They got progressively worse, the last one was a doozy.  They handed my BFF a paper sack and a shovel and told her to clean the fire place.  By this point, we had decided the $25 was not worth all the hassle and this was our last job.  I wasn't much of a business women at 17, but I was a quick learner!

What we did not know, was the ashes were not totally cold.  The embers ignited in the paper sack and the whole kitchen and living room filled with smoke.  There were Chinese people screaming everywhere and all we wanted to do was get our money and get the hell out of there.

You just can't win with these types of clients.  They are time suckers, productivity killers, morale destroyers, and not big enough to support all the resources that have to be poured into making them happy and making you money.

I had to say goodbye this week to one such customer, I was told after the fact that it was the most professional kiss off they had ever read, but what I really wanted to say was:

"Oh, Honorable Customer, shut the fuck up."