Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in small businesses

Literary truths

I have borrowed from Shakespeare in the title, but also remember Enid Blyton who inspired me to be a bookworm as a child:

“What does it matter if things go wrong?
l sing and I’ll whistle my brave little song.”

Not that I was very keen on Noddy himself,whose song this was, but things do go wrong in business and sometimes there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. I asked a former client if she wanted her private papers delivered back by me when I was passing, or to have them sent by courier. She chose the latter and with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight I should have chosen a local courier rather than the international company which had been recommended to me. Of course the parcel got lost.

Horrible accidents

No amount of compensation could actually compensate for the loss of unique papers. The couriers will not anyway pay compensation on something which has no intrinsic value. The former client is naturally very upset and keeps pressing me to extract something from the delivery firm or get back her papers. This is a hopeless task. They are one of the largest home delivery companies in Europe, they operate entirely on-line and have no telephone number for customer service and no published numbers for any of their offices or depots. They are all apparently ex-directory.

All my correspondence with this company has to be done via email. Generously they have refunded the fee I paid them to take the package; a whole £7.14. I have been as pleasant as can be with the ex-client, who is very short with me, but there is just nothing I can do to make matters better, though I will never use this company again.

So while I will keep bashing away at the courier company I have to move on, but it is stressful when people are unhappy with my business and me, even though the fault is not mine. I do care very much, but I cannot help any more.

Picking ourselves up

We have to look beyond upsetting events in business. We have to relax and de-stress. Following the latest telephone call from the lady whose papers are lost I went to the gym and felt better afterwards.

We have to look to the future and put behind us that which was out of our control. We have to keep focussed, to do what is right, and not let anyone down even though multi-national companies dump on us.

How do you get past unpleasant incidents and work off your stress?

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Value billing and genuine benefits

In my line of work we tend largely to bill a fixed amount per project or task carried out for our clients. There is always at the lower level a consideration of time involved so that we do make a fair profit. If there are extra items that we provide or some special premium service that we offer and our clients opt for it, understandably they expect it to be genuine and not something we offer everyone for a basic price. The rule is that the greater the benefit, the greater the cost.

This last week I had to buy a new printer, which I purchased from a well-known on-line provider (well, I guess all IT related stuff is by definition available on-line). On this occasion, though there were elements of the proposition I did not properly understand, so I actually had to resort to using the telephone. I sorted out the deal with the operator, and she then said to me “do you want next day delivery for a cost of £12.99 or standard delivery for £4.99 which is in two to three days?”. I opted for standard delivery, partly because next day delivery was not particularly convenient.

Imagine my surprise when within a few minutes I had an emailed invoice for the printer plus standard delivery followed by another saying that the machine would be delivered the following day. An hour later I had an email from the courier confirming next day delivery and that the goods had been dispatched. Indeed the package did arrive the following afternoon. For this company, next day delivery is standard practice, no doubt so that no one has any storage problems along the chain and they can keep their goods moving.

I could have paid an extra £8.00 for the same service I was actually getting and would have known no different unless I could have compared notes. I was not out of pocket but could have been if I had been very anxious to receive my printer.

In the business world, often clients and customers do have occasion and opportunities to compare notes. Imagine if your customers finding out that the “premium” service they were paying for was something nearly everyone had from you without paying extra. That is the way to lose clients, isn’t it? You wouldn’t do it that way, because people would feel scammed and ripped-off.

As customers ourselves we do have to make sure that our goodwill is not abused, and as people in business we have to ensure that all our clients and customers feel they are treated fairly. That is good business and good customer service.

© Jon Stow 2010

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