The print’s just fine, thanks!

“I don’t read fine print,” were the words I read in the email, the second one from this customer that day.  It was the Monday after Thanksgiving and it seemed that it was going to be one of those Mondays.  I had arrived just before 9:00 a.m. to get the coffee made and pull the orders for the day, only to find an email from an irate customer waiting.  It seems that she had placed an order on Tuesday before Thanksgiving, requesting that the package be shipped to her by 3-day delivery.  Any idiot could count on their fingers and cipher out that three days from Tuesday would be Friday.  Yet, her package wasn’t scheduled to be delivered until Tuesday.  How is that possible?  “PLEASE REFUND MY MONEY!”, screamed the last line in the missive.

I politely replied to her email and after offering a solution which should have been acceptable, suggested that it might have been helpful, had she read the “policy page” as instructed, before selecting expedited shipping for her order.  The policy for the shipping company explained that there would be no deliveries on Thanksgiving or the Friday after, and those days would not count in the days-in-transit count.  It all made perfect sense to me, but the reply you see above was all that was forthcoming.  Don’t read fine print!?  How can you not read the fine print?  Life is precarious enough without encouraging problems.  Surely, there are no ignorant thrill-seekers left in this world who don’t read all the instructions before pushing the “make payment” key.  Don’t they know the tangled mess they make of the orderly systems we have in place to keep the wheels of commerce moving?  Fine print is the lubricant of the whole enterprise!  

Truth be told, the print wasn’t any smaller than that on the rest of the page, but let’s not argue about semantics.  She couldn’t be bothered.  And, it was obvious that the fault lay with us, not with her.  A phone conversation with her later in the day made clear that we were not going to ameliorate the problem to her satisfaction any time in this century.  We offered a full refund, including the purchase price of the product, as well as giving her the item to keep, but still she could not be mollified.  At wit’s end, I finally suggested that possibly we were not the organization with which she should be shopping for her music, since we obviously weren’t capable of performing up to her standards.  As you might imagine, my last suggestion wasn’t made without a fair amount of frustration (and maybe a little sarcasm) on my part, nor was it met with quiescence on her part.  Regardless, we went our separate ways, each certain of the merit of our own position, and each not having achieved our goal.

I hate unfinished business.  I want every customer to feel that she or he has gotten everything they have paid for and then some.  I also want everybody to like me, although by now, I’m convinced that this goal is impossible to meet.  Sometimes, our objectives are unattainable, our sights set just too high.  But still, it’s very difficult for me not to put this one in the loss column, hard not to say that I failed.  I look at the facts and know that I did all I could, but a bad result has to be tallied somehow, so I call it a loss.  Fortunately, as I count them up, the win column is still weighted heavily, but I wish that all of the occurrences which have made their mark in the loss column could be completely erased. 

“Hey, Paul!  This is John in Atlanta.  You know, I got a bad CD last week.”  The cheerful voice belies the words.  John isn’t angry, doesn’t want an apology.  He knows us by now and he’s confident that we’ll get a good product sent right out to him.  As a matter of fact, he wants to order five other items while he’s got me on the phone.  “You guys always treat me right.  Fast delivery and always there to help me when I need it.  Can’t ask for better than that!”  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could get him to call the earlier customer and help her to see what a nice guy I really am?  Oh well, that’s not the way it works, but man, do I appreciate customers who are such an encouragement!

It would be easy to get discouraged about the failures, but we constantly receive reassurance from customers.  A note here about the great service, a phone call there about how fast the product arrived, a new customer who tells me they contacted us because they received a glowing endorsement from a friend; all of these help to give the impetus to keep doing what we do.  The funny thing is, the bad experiences also help us to do that.  We keep plugging away, because we are convinced that we can do better.  We’ll adjust the fine print, maybe even insert great big red arrows to point the way to it, but we’ll try harder and keep as many marks in the win column as we can. 

It would be easy to focus on those marks in the loss column.  When we contemplate them, it does seem that they are written in much darker pencil than the others are.  The truth is, we just need to focus on the goal.  Looking back magnifies the failures, but moving ahead puts them in perspective and motivates us to transcend the past. I like what Tom Krause, a motivational speaker, has to say on the subject.  “There are no failures – just experiences and your reactions to them.”

“Success is falling nine times, and getting up ten.”
(Jon Bon Jovi, American rock musician)

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