Customer Pain

Way back in 2011, I had an irate customer yelling at me on the phone. My company was fumbling a firewall installation. The CIO was demanding his money back and threatened take us to court. Six weeks later, I closed a large deal with that same CIO and he called us a “trusted partner.”

It was quite a turnaround. Honestly, it was not that difficult.

Turning around a failing customer relationship is one of the more rewarding things you can do as a founder. It is also relatively easy, if you have a growth mindset and can handle some pain.

Let’s look at how you can turn the most spittle flecked, rage monster into a champion for your company.

For Sale: Pain Relief

While your company may sell products and/or services, that is not what customers purchase. Customers buy pain relief. They have pain(s), your products and/or services will make the pain(s) go away.

Customer pain comes in many different flavors, such as inefficiency, inconsistency, human errors, excessive costs, or a barrier to progress. In 2011, my customer needed better security scanning to pass audits and win business. The lack of security monitoring was a barrier to opportunity. Opportunity barriers are especially painful to companies. Companies spend millions (billions?) a year to remove these barriers since they limit revenue and growth. For example, the entire cloud computing industry is one giant virtualized ibuprofen that makes deploying applications easier.

This customer hired my company for pain relief. We were doing the opposite, causing pain. The customer did not care about our internal problems, inexperience, or the consultant’s incompetence.

Consequently, to make the situation right, I needed to make a commitment.

Growth Commitment

The consultant assigned to the project got overwhelmed. Rather than ask for help, he blamed the customer, the firewall manufacturer, the sales team, and so forth. More specifically, he approached the project with a fixed mindset. He believed that since he was unable to do the work, it was therefore impossible, and the company should never have sold the customer the service in the first place.

I fired the consultant and took on the project myself. I approached the issue with a growth mindset: there was a solution, I merely did not know it, yet.

I did lot of reading and tinkering. After a few long nights, I figured it out. While it was difficult, it was absolutely possible. When the firewall operated as expected, I had a great sense of accomplishment. The customer was delighted. The pain was gone.

If you want to turn around a relationship, you must commit to relieve the pain. Otherwise, what use are you? Incidentally, this same concept applies to friends, neighbors, spouses and most relationships. If you want rewarding relationships, you need to commit.

Your Value is Your Commitment

In my recent blog, Should You Fake It Until You Make It, I discussed the importance of commitment when building a business. Customers judge their vendors based on their ability to uphold commitments. Likewise, people judge you on your ability to meet commitments. If you can make and keep commitments, you are going places. If you blame others, make excuses, and play the victim, you are going nowhere.

Furthermore, you cannot push your problems on to your customers. If your team lacks the skills, they need to acquire them, quickly. If your product cannot do what it says, then you need to fix it, now. If your salespeople overpromised, then you need to overdeliver. Once the deal is signed, you cannot back out of that commitment. You also do not get to re-write the story to suit your inability to handle learning.

As a founder, you must stomp out toxic, blame-culture at the first signs. When your people are blaming others rather than solving problems, the company is on a bad path. Furthermore, you must uphold and nurture a growth mindset. For more information, read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset or FS Blog has a good summary.

Focus on Pain

Lastly, your entire company, must focus on how you are reducing or eliminating customer pain, not causing it. I have sat in countless meetings (in my own even) where people blathered endlessly about all their grandiose ideas, telling one pointless story after another, never once addressing how they are going to reduce a customer’s pain. You are either reducing pain or increasing it. Be on the left side of that equation.

The simple formula to turn around irate customers:

  • Listen to the customer and their pain
  • Ensure every aspect of your business understands customer pain: sales, marketing, messaging, pricing, delivery, customer success, support, etc. Nobody gets to avoid or ignore the customer’s pain.
  • Require a growth mindset. Stomp out blame.
  • Make and meet commitments.

It really is that simple.

What do you think? I love feedback, even the negative kind. Email me at [email protected] with your thoughts, suggestions, or insults.



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