During his three terms as New York’s mayor, Ed Koch was known for asking just about everyone, “How am I doing?” Koch tackled a problem head-on, asking that dreaded question, and expecting an honest answer. He was known to immediately address an issue before it became a major problem. Koch was one of the most popular mayors New York has ever had.
I always admired Koch for his fortitude at facing his “customers” in a very public way, and in my early years as a sales manager I learned, like Mayor Koch, if you ignore a problem, it escalates. No. It doesn’t go away; it just grows bigger and bigger until it explodes in your face like a rogue firecracker.
Still young, and green, I was assigned to work with an important customer. We had printed a huge number of brochures for this customer. One problem — it was on the wrong paper stock. There was very little difference between the paper stock we printed on and the paper stock the customer had requested. Chances are, the customer would never have known. But I told him. Why? If he discovered the difference without me telling him, I’d certainly lose his respect, and maybe even his business. Better to get it out in the open and face his disappointment than face dread for days and weeks, thinking that he will eventually discover the mistake. I made the right decision. Today, his company continues to be one of our best customers.
This honesty with customers has become the backbone of how Shamrock chooses to do business. I encourage everyone who meets with customers to ask, “Tell, me how are we doing?” and wait through the dreaded pause, until the customer answers. That pause, which may only be 60 seconds, can seem like an hour spent sitting in the rain on the topmost part of a roller coaster looking at the steepest decline you’ve ever seen.
The best outcome to your question is that your customer will actually tell you the truth. If something’s wrong, you can clear the air. When I ask, I like to watch my customer’s expression when he or she responds. Is it evasive? Warm? Hostile? Submissive? The worst is a customer who’s submissive. That tells me he’s not invested in the project and really doesn’t value our relationship enough to care about the outcome. The best is a customer who tells me exactly what she thinks of how and where the project is headed — even if it hurts my ego to its core. I can finally exhale and, if necessary, say, “We can fix that.”
ONE FINAL THOUGHT…Without asking “how am I doing?” I’d never know if the project’s going well or not. And not knowing how I’m perceived by a customer is worse than not knowing where my next project will be coming from. And, if you don’t ask, and you don’t know, you may never again have the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief to an answer from that particular customer.