Confession time. I make mistakes too.

The biggest mistakes I’ve made over the years all have a common thread. I’ve compromised what I know the client needs with what the client thought they needed.

If you’re in business, you’ve faced this situation. The big project. You know what the customer needs and make your proposal. The reception is good and things seem to be going in your direction. You want the deal and you know your product or service is right for your customer. Then it hits. The client wants a few “changes” to the plan. You know the changes aren’t the best way to go. But, needing the project, you compromise. You get the project but the outcome isn’t as good as you’d planned. You can look back on those little compromises and see how they diminished your results.

You can’t go back to the “boss” with “It’s your fault. I did it your way.”

I had a call from a large company with a serious customer service problem. As a customer to that company, I was aware of the seriousness of their problem as my experience with them had been very poor. The CEO asked for a proposal to fix their customer service. I knew the finances were very tight so I struggled with keeping the costs to minimum. I asked for 5 days to work with their people. My plan was to observe the entire service process—from initial contact to paper flow to satisfaction. Then I would offer training—their service people were horrible on the phone—and offer means to streamline the flow. I also planned to introduce ways of generating revenue from ‘complaints’. The plan was a good one. 

The CEO wanted me to reduce my time to 2 days. And, he wanted me to spend my time developing “metrics” to measure customer satisfaction. I knew little could be accomplished if my time was so severely cut back. And I knew using my time to develop surveys and spreadsheets would not solve the problem. But I wanted to work with this company so I countered with a compromise. Dumb. The CEO countered with his own thoughts on the matter: 3 days, and do it his way.

In the end, I decided to walk away. I lost the project because I compromised. I knew what needed to be done but sent a signal that compromise was possible. Once negotiation started, the project was dead. I wasted a lot of time writing proposals before deciding to abandon the project.

Here’s where I went wrong. I knew from experience with their service department that training was needed. I knew from numerous online posts that many people were dissatisfied with their service. I did not need a spreadsheet to determine that. I also knew that training takes time. You can’t change a bad situation in a day.

Instead of holding my ground and explaining this to the CEO, I offered a compromise. Dumb.

If someone asked you to bake a cake but only use the oven for 10 minutes, you can’t compromise on 15 minutes! It takes 30-35 minutes to bake a cake. Period. I like to remind people that 9 women can’t make a baby in a month.

When asked to compromise your work, and when you know what needs to be done, stick with your proposal. It will work out better for everyone. You may lose a few “deals” but that’s better than delivering poor results.

The client? They never did fix their service issues. Sales have dropped 50% and they are now on the verge on collapse. Too bad. It didn’t have to be.

Chris Reich, Author of TeachU’s Business Talk Blog.
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