She had located my name on a list of installers at the cash-and-carry establishment where she had shopped. That was how I was making a living back then. The job was a relatively simple one. It was new construction. I agreed to install and showed up late afternoon on the day I promised to start. The lady had purchased two pieces of carpet. One was a solid white, high denier, 70 oz. plush, J.P. Stevens, if I remember correctly. This was to cover her den, formal living room and foyer stairs. The balance of the home was to be done with 40 oz. run of the mill type stuff. My helper and I managed to strip, pad and cut up the whole job that afternoon. Pretty snazzy so far… Then I got the call.
The dealer called me to express his customer’s sentiments. He said, “Chuck, Mrs. So and So claims you measured the job wrong!” (Did I forget to mention I had measured the house for free?) Anyway, the rub turned out to be in how I had measured the den. I had figured it with a seam against the wall with 18-inch fills stacked up. She had imagined that the seam would be dead center in the middle of the room (fewer seams) and was exceedingly disappointed when she saw the job cut up as I had measured and laid it out. Oh well. I figured we could work it out.
I showed up the next morning to meet my customer in person for the first time. She had her advisor (builder) with her. She did not seem furious, just sad and angry. She and her “advisor” had consulted one another and had come to the firm conclusion that there was no way I could put her den together without it looking horrible. In spite of being incredibly insulted at that suggestion, I agreed to move her very expensive carpet to the bonus room and piece it all together in that room. That took some figuring. Anyway, I did what they demanded and took great personal pleasure in knowing I was about to make both of my antagonists look and feel like fools. Although the bonus room wound up being a patchwork, no one could find a seam. I have to admit to having felt like a king as those two looked at that room knowing they had come to a stupid decision. My helper could hardly keep from laughing when he and I overheard Mr. Advisor consoling Mrs. So and So by saying, “Even though you can’t see those seams now, they will show up over time.” It was a cold and satisfying revenge.
I gleefully suffered a litany of thoughtful suggestions as to proper method as I finished the rest of that house. She paid the invoice she was given and we basically parted company as enemies. All of this happened almost twenty years ago.
Oh yeah, back to the title, “The Harsh Brilliance of Hindsight.” That awful pair of people had no idea what a great mechanic I was. Whose fault was that? Mine. Not only had I agreed to do a job without the benefit of knowing my customer’s wishes, I also showed up looking nothing like a competent mechanic. Had I known she wanted her seam in the wrong place, I could have nipped that in the bud. I never bothered to ask. Truth be told, if someone had told her I lived under a bridge, she would have no reason to doubt them. I never considered my appearance. My helper and I met her looking like a pair of bums. The knees were blown out of our filthy jeans; we had dirty, glue stained t-shirts to match. I was all of twenty years old and looked all of fifteen. The fact that I was an exceptional mechanic was drowned out by my behavior and appearance. Instead of guiding them, I chose the role of adversary for the sake of petty pride.
Who could blame them for doubting my competence? Not I. Not in hindsight. Hindsight has taught me a lot about that day. It all boils down to relationships. The relationship was broken by the installer before he even got started. I never gave my customer a chance to take me seriously. A little communication would have gone a long way.
- Had the issue of seam placement been discussed prior to cutting the material, things would have most likely worked out fine.
- Had I presented myself as someone deserving the benefit of the doubt in terms of credibility, the seam placement issue could have been addressed and we could have moved on from there.
- Had I thought of that customer as a friend instead of a means to an end, you can bet your bottom dollar she would have wound up with her carpet installed as she had intended. Friends are easy to deal with.
All of the work I performed on the floor was perfect. So what? The entire exchange was an utter failure of customer service on my part. O, if only that were an isolated incident. It was years before I came to understand the most important thing I ever learned about being successful. It is all about the consumer!
Experiences such as the one I described above have taught me the value of offering customers much more than mere competence. Competence begets bland acceptance and little more. Showing customers both respect and true affection, on the other hand, creates fierce customer loyalty. Loyal customers will make you wealthy.
We work for an end user every day we do this thing of ours. It can be wonderful or it can be horrible. It is my firm belief that we are the ones in control of which way it goes. Go get ’em!