Business as Relationship Over Time

I hate when our customers are upset. Sometimes the culprit is something we did (or didn’t do) and sometimes the customer (dare I say it) has made a mistake or set up unrealistic expectations. Either way, I truly don’t like seeing someone consume our services and walk away without a smile on their face.

The reality, though, is that no company is going to have a 100% batting average. As the old saw says, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.” You can, of course, do everything you can to make things right, but that’s not the same as everyone being happy. (What’s more, as my friend Ryan has pointed out, having haters is a good indicator that you’re doing something right1.)

Upset customers can get to you if you think of your company or your job as primarily about your performance. (That’s a strange statement because, in some regard, your job is mostly about what you accomplish.) As I said above, though, you won’t ever perform perfectly in relation to the people you serve. Emotional mileage will vary depending on how you’re wired together, but that can really drive some people crazy.

A better way to think about customers is in the context of relationship over time. Think about your best relationships. I’ll bet they’re not perfect ones. In fact, I’d wager that they’ve gone through some tough times—highs and lows. That’s natural.

We all know that in relationships, real commitment is sticking it through in the long run, through good times and bad. Commitment means being the better person (or company) when the person you’re trying to help is being completely unfair (or irrational). Good relationships mature and get better over the long haul (not with quick fixes). Alternatively, some relationships end for good reasons (and that can be healthy). Many times good relationships mean not giving someone everything they want all of the time.

As our company grows, I’m working hard to think about the students we serve through the lens of relationship, not just transaction. We’re developing a careful ear—something beyond just perfect execution—that will allow us to plant deeper roots.

Business is about relationships. Relationships are hard. Relationships take time. But relationships are the most rewarding part of what we do.

1. You can read my friend Ryan’s perspective on why having haters is encouraging on his blog.

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.

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