JP Rule #3: Never Let Your Client Make a Mistake

by Joanna Pineda Posted on April 21, 2011

The Matrix Group running team wanted t-shirts for a couple of races this Spring and Summer. We ordered black running shirt with our logo printed using a sublimation process, meaning that instead of being an applique, the ink is fused into the shirt fibers. This ensures the shirt remains breathable and the logo will be long lasting. We ordered the shirts from a company Boombah. Unfortunately, the shirts were got had the logos applied with a Fusion process, which is essentially a high-end iron on transfer. The shirts look and feel like plastic.

We called Boombah to complain that we ordered shirts with a sublimation process, which, incidentally, is what our e-mail receipt says. The Boombah sales rep said something to the effect of “the sublimation process is only available for the white and gray shirts. Our receipts say sublimation as part of the template, but it’s wrong. Our website is very clear that you can’t get sublimation with the black shirts.” (Don’t get me started on what happened when I asked to speak with a manager or the owner. It was not good.)

Okay, forget that the invoice says sublimation. Boombah violated what I affectionately refer to as JP Rule #3: Never let your client make a mistake. In my mind, if we had called asking for black shirts with logos, the rep should have made sure we were crystal clear on the concept that sublimation, which is the nicer printing method, is NOT available for black shirts. Knowing that fusion on black makes for a crappy shirt, the rep should have at least tried to prevent us from making that mistake. Yes, we ultimately placed the order and we take responsibility. We paid for the shirts and promptly ordered a batch from another company.

Whether it’s shirts or websites, clients rely on their service providers for expertise and recommendations. It’s up to us to educate our clients, make sure they understand the options, make recommendations, and warn them if we think they’re about to make a mistake. Yes, clients ultimately need to make their own decisions and they are big boys and girls, but if we hold technical knowledge they don’t, shouldn’t we at least make sure they are aware of the impact of their choices?

Case in point. A new client was implementing MatrixMaxx, our association management software. Our main contact told us that the association didn’t need any company demographics as part of the setup. We questioned this decision several times and he maintained that no, the organization did not need to collect company data outside of contact information. Knowing this is wrong and a waste of an opportunity to gather member data, we took the issue to the VP. Without making it seem like we were going over the manager’s head, we let the VP know that we thought the organization could benefit from collecting additional data as part of the member profile and membership application. We even suggested a package of fields. Sure enough, the VP, who has a bigger picture view, agreed on the demographics. We *could* have dropped the issue after confirming with the manager. We would have had tons of documentation showing that the client rejected the additional fields so that if the client came back to us a year later, we’d be perfectly justified in charging extra money for a change order. But that behavior would have violated Rule #3.

We try to live Rule #3 and we don’t always succeed. There isn’t always clarity about what’s absolutely right and what’s absolutely wrong. We don’t always realize a decision will be the wrong one in the long run. And clients don’t always agree with us. BUT, I believe that we have an obligation to our clients to at least give it the old college try and help them not make mistakes.

How about you? Got any stories of a vendor who let you make a mistake or saved you from making a bad decision?

P.S. I have a total of 23 rules. I’ll try to blog about them all in the future. If you’d like a copy of the list, let me know.

6 replies on “JP Rule #3: Never Let Your Client Make a Mistake”

I would love to see a list of your 23 rules. Does this mean you are a Michael Jordan fan?

JP thanks for articulating (JP Rule #3) with great example. I would love to have your entire list of 23 rules. I always counted on you when my employer (Alexandria, VA) was your client, to make me look good 🙂 Thanks,

Al Shoaff

I could not agree more that our clients should be able to rely on us as service providers for our expertise and recommendations. I have experienced similar services that you described in the t-shirt situation, and wondered, “why didn’t that provider look out for us?” Needless to say, situations like that can have a huge negative impact on work relationships, and often result in termination of partnerships. I think if we are truly “in relationship” with our clients, we owe it to them to think objectively and proactively for them, asking questions to ensure that their expectations will not only be met, but indeed exceeded every time we work together. Ideally, I want our clients to be able to rely on us not only for what our firm can provide, but for anything that will facilitate their success. We owe it to our clients to be resourceful and well networked outside of our own areas of expertise. We should strive to be the “go to” source for our clients no matter what they need, and demonstrate how much we value them through honest, thought-provoking dialogue. Trust is hard to build, but easy to lose, and it is the number one thing we value in working with others. Look forward to seeing all of your “rules.”

You provide a great example of what separates great companies from the also rans. We practice this concept religiously at VISTAtsi. I had the good fortune to have this expectation reinforced by one of our large federal customers early in my career. I was checking in with a customer with whom we had been working for many years to see how we were doing. In the privacy of his Pentagon office, he reminded me that, in addition to providing all the services that were stipulated in our contract, he also was depending on us to look out for his interests in our dealings with others and, to the best of our ability, make sure that he didn’t get blindsided by something we should have noticed. He relayed a particular instance where we might have done a better job of living up to this expectation and it really registered with me. Ever since, I have consistently reinforced this expectation with my staff and we have gone on to do a significant volume of work for this customer that continues today. I consider it a key characteristic of our approach to our customers across the board that helps to differentiate us from our competition.

Keep up the good work and I would be interested to see what else is on your list!

I’d also like to see your (Gibbs-inspired?) rules. Make sure you get #12 right: Never date a coworker. 😉

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