How a single dumb mistake can KILL your business stone dead! By – Call Us Now On 618 9443 9327

How a single dumb mistake can KILL your business stone dead! By – Call Us Now On 618 9443 9327

This is a bitter lesson for us all in how a reputation, in fact an entire business, even a long-standing one, can be stopped in its tracks – probably killed off entirely – by a single, catastrophic, dumb mistake.

This is a true story. It’s happening to me right now. Read this and weep. And take care to ensure it doesn’t happen in your business.
I’m about to ruin a man’s company, deliberately. And unless you make the right decisions, every time, any one of your customers could do the same to you.

Every year, my 40ft cruiser is lifted out of the water for its annual maintenance and a coat of special anti-fouling paint on the hull. One of the most difficult areas of a boat to protect are the big bronze propellers and stainless steel shafts that drive the boat through the water. Stuff grows on them.

Even the smallest growth of barnacles on these and the boat vibrates nastily, it won’t achieve optimum speed, and chews twice as much fuel.
Like tens of thousands of boat owners the world over, for years I’ve used an expensive but effective compound that must only be applied by licensed, specially trained tradesmen.

It usually lasts a couple of years, but this season it was due for another coat.

At a boat show a few weeks ago I stumbled on a brand new product, developed in Australia, called PropShield. It left the props and shafts a strange-looking bright blue, but on the demo hardware at the show, it looked the goods. Better still, it was cheaper than the competitor, would last up to three years, and according to the local distributor could be applied by anybody, as long as the instructions were followed.

So a bought a $500 kit of the stuff from a local boat retailer, craned the boat out of the water, and handed the job over to my regular shipwright, who followed the instructions to the letter. He’s not cheap, but he’s always been a meticulous craftsman. That’s why I use him.

The boat went back in the water a week later, compete with its freshly-painted bright blue underwater hardware. Happy days.

Last weekend, two friends and I headed out to sea for some fishing, and pulled into a shallow bay for a bite to eat and a swim. To our astonishment, a quick dive under the boat revealed that after just two weeks, barely a shred of the brand new coating of protective compound remained. Just bright shiny bronze and stainless steel, completely bare. It had ALL fallen off.

And that’s when the fight started. An immediate call to the boat shop prompted the disturbing response that ‘oh dear, you’re the second one this week.’
That sparked a phone call soon after from the local state distributor, the guy who sold me on the product at the boat show, and an assurance that he’d be onto the manufacturer first thing Monday.

By Monday afternoon, I’d heard nothing. Tuesday morning, an email from the distributor suggesting I contact the manufacturer direct.

I called the manufacturer on his cell phone. He claimed to have heard nothing from the distributor, and curtly asked what ‘my’ was. I told him, in detail, the sequence of events. Then, without even attempting to conceal a tone of dismissive arrogance, he declared there was nothing wrong with the product, the fault was almost certainly in the manner of application, and that I should ‘take some photos’ and get a sample of the what was left of the compound and send them to him for analysis.

Which means hiring a diver and an underwater camera at my expense, or craning the boat out of the water again, still at my expense. And, by the tone of the conversation, all to be told from 3,000 miles away and on the evidence of a photograph and a scrap of paint, that yep, it was the shipwright’s fault.
It’s only at this point that I discovered a crucial piece of information – like evidence kept from the defence at a murder trial – that neither the distributor, the retailer or the manufacturer’s instructions made apparent at any stage; even the tiniest, microscopic speck of silicon residue left over from the previous product – even an airborne speck landing on the metal prior to painting – could cause complete failure.

Further than that, this guy – the inventor and manufacturer of the product – was prepared to offer nothing. Not an on-site inspection, not a batch of replacement product, not so much as a whispered apology.

On receipt of my email about this disappointing exchange, the local distributor was understandably horrified at the potential to be tarred with the same brush.

“If I can negotiate a different outcome for you with PropShield I will let you know, if I cannot it will also be the end of my own relationship with Propshield and I will need to get back to repairing the confidence consumers have in our core range. Perhaps your business experience would be able to help us do that.”

So for the sake of a lousy few hundred dollars in product and half a day of a shipwright’s time, this fool of a business owner – with the customer service attitude of a crocodile – is now on the brink of wrecking his entire company. And most likely many years of hard work.

Because I will certainly be craning the boat out of the water, and taking pictures. But I won’t be bothering to mail them to a post office box, as instructed, on the other side of the country. Thanks to technology, those pictures and this sorry tale will be all over the internet, on every boating forum in the world, within days.

(And in the newspapers, quite likely. Because luck would have it that my good friend and fellow boat owner John was with me that day at the boat show, and was waiting on the outcome of my experience before applying it to his own boat. And he happens to be a senior photographer at one of the country’s major daily newspapers.)

Instead of blustering, denying, accusing, ducking and diving, all he had to do to avoid disaster was say the following words:

“Greg, I’m really sorry this has happened. I don’t know the cause yet, but here’s what I’m going to do. At your convenience and my expense, I’m going to get your boat out of the water and have one of my experts inspect it thoroughly.
“Then I’m going to get your shipwright to prepare the surfaces again, under our supervision so we know it’s been done right, and I’m going to supply the product for another coat. Because we believe in our product, and if it’s done exactly the right way, I guarantee you’ll get up to three years of trouble-free boating.”

That’s all he had to say, and I would have been converted into a delighted advocate. What this ‘businessman’ doesn’t get – and he’s certainly not alone in this – is that it’s never the problem that’s the problem. It’s how you solve it.

History is littered with case study after case study of once-great companies brought to their knees overnight by clumsiness at best, arrogance at worst.

It’s a lesson in how a few carefully-chosen words can turn an unhappy, potentially destructive customer into a raving evangelist.

No, the customer isn’t always right. But there is a right way and a wrong way to handle any complaint. Do it the wrong way, like this dunderhead did, and the consequence can be a train wreck.

How a single dumb mistake can KILL your business stone dead! – Call Us Now On 618 9443 9327