“They gave us world class, but all we needed was the basics.”
Last week I was speaking with a VP of Quality at a small medical device company at which point he politely complained to me about a recent experience he had with a consultant their company brought onboard. The company was implementing a new online quality management system (QMS) and was utilizing this consultant to get it up and running.
The VP shared with me his irritation about how the consultant came in and took on the project as an expert in the field. The consultant had done many QMS implementations prior and came with good recommendations of his work. As the conversation went on the VP share further irritation about his experience working with the consultant. He brought in an expert to do a job that was rather straight forward yet that’s not what the company got in the end. Unfortunately, the consultant failed to understand one of the most important aspects of his job – understand the needs of the customer and implement accordingly.
“We’re a small company, we don’t need all the bells and whistles right now [from a QMS system]. We just need a system that keeps us in compliance while making things easier from a process flow standpoint.”
The VP was sharing with me a painful experience he was having as a result of someone doing work for him and not understanding what was actually needed in the moment to be successful on that project.
Sometimes what’s needed is the basics, not world class. The key is knowing when each of these is appropriate.
All to often we show up to a project or work with the idea we’re going to dress up the proverbial pig ready for a fancy night out on the town. This pig of ours is going to look amazing, amazing because of the work we did to get it there. However, we end up missing the mark because we don’t bother to ask the right questions along the way. If we had bothered to ask the right questions to understand what was truly needed by the company and the key stakeholders we may find out the ‘pig’ just needs a new pair of shoes, not a whole wardrobe change.
Here’s how this played out in the scenario above with my client and VP…
Here’s the rub on the situation.
If the consultant had bothered to ask the vital question of their client upfront “What does ‘success’ looks like at the end of the project?” he would have found out the client needed a practical QMS which met the basic needs of their product and regulatory requirements yet did not need a lot of the fancy bells and whistles larger companies utilize with their QMS.
Basically, this small medical device company needed a QMS that was straightforward, basic yet allowed them to upgrade their company to meet the regulatory requirements for their product. The client wanted a no frills, basic system yet what they got was a world class system they’ll probably never fully utilize.
Don’t assume your work or project requires you to put forth world class service. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is all that’s needed. Knowing the different between ‘good enough’ and world class work outputs is a vital skill to develop and implement in your career.
Before you begin your next project at work think to yourself “what’s really needed here? The basics or something more?”. Then actually go ask the key stakeholder in charge. Doing this shows an ability to think big picture with an appreciation for what’s best for the company, not what’s best to make you look good as a result of the work you can do.
Let’s face it, customers (or clients) are what keep us in business. Without the customer there would be no business, no management, no worker bee, no complimentary coffee that tastes like gym socks in the office kitchen and certainly no revenue.
Customers at the end of the day are the end all be all. Without a willing customer to buy your product or service you will simply cease to exist. The customer and the business are not mutually exclusive, they rely on one another to exist, yet the reality is that often times the one who holds the most influence in the relationship is the customer.
Influence, or power for that matter, has a strange way of changing how people act at times, creating monsters out of women and men.
When customers become tough to deal with many times what we see on the outside isn’t the full picture, to get to the bottom of it we need to dive deeper into the issue to truly understand that persons irritation or frustrations.
Which reminds me of an old story from another lifetime back when I was in high school. I was a server at a small pizza restaurant in the town I grew up in. I loved the job because I got to eat pizza all day long and interact with some really cool people, our customers. Let’s call it like it is, everyone’s happy when they’re getting pizza, so needless to say I really loved this job.
One day a customer came in to pick up a pizza to-go. I had served this customer many times before and what happened that day was the same as every other time we would interacted with this gentleman. He came in and immediately started frothing at the mouth about how his last purchase with our restaurant was awful as he yelled about how it was never on time and ‘the pizza sauce sucked’. "There are never enough pepperoni's on the pizza", he would say. In typical fashion he would then ask to speak with the manager and demand a discount, which most of the time we gave him. It was like groundhogs day, same thing every time with little deviation. I always laughed to myself because he just kept coming back for more like some evil self-inflicted punishment.
I remember thinking to myself, "If our service and food was really that bad, why did he keep coming back?"
One day our manager finally had enough and confronted the man. I’d love to say it was me but I was a pimply faced 16 year old and certainly not gutsy enough to speak back to a customer and risk losing my pizza privileges, or job for that matter. The restaurant manager interrupted the man’s banter, took him a side and asked, “Sir, why do you continue to give us your business if you dislike our food so much. You seem awfully upset and often treat my employees rather poor. Is everything okay?”
As I ease dropped in on the conversation I was shocked at the response from the customer.
“I’m sorry Tim. (our manager’s name) I was fired from my job a couple months ago, as a result I lost my house so I’m living out of my car and pizza is the cheapest, easiest thing for me to eat. Please let your staff know how much I appreciate them as they are always nice to me, even though I’m not a very pleasant person myself.”
My mouth dropped to the floor. None of us knew why this person was always such an irritable grump, we just knew that when he came in the door he was always angry and seemed to enjoy taking it out on the servers.
Our manager decided to give him the pizza he ordered for free and invited him back the following day so that the man could watch our team go through the process of making pizzas. The manager wanted him to see that the food was good quality and we cared about our customers. He also threw in a free lunch for the guy, more than I would of done, certainly.
Best part of the story was after the customers ‘field trip’ to our restaurant ended that following day our manager offered him a job delivering pizzas so he could earn some money until he was able to get back on his feet.
I learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day which taught me to take the time to confront tough situations rather than let those situations own me in the process. As a result I’m a firm believer that you attract more bees with honey than you do with sledgehammers.
Once we understand what is driving a customer to act in a certain way we can then respond with a solution that hopefully changes the course of the relationship moving forward.
These 5 steps are a great way to get to the bottom of your customers frustrations so you can then start focusing on turning around the relationship:
“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.” - Wayne Dyer
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.