All Ticked Off

crewcall-lg-1015Just a couple of days ago, I was working with a colleague in the UK to troubleshoot a conferencing system with a client in a third location. We got together on a call for a few minutes before we dialed the client in order to make sure we were on the same page with regard to the troubleshooting procedure that we wanted to use. My colleague across the pond mentioned that he wanted to get everything that we needed to get done completed that day, so he could “get this client ticked off.” He meant, of course, that he wanted to check the client off on his list. I chuckled and commented that we use the phrase “ticked off” a little differently.

But since I had a while to wait for the client, it got me thinking in a rather whimsical way about the other little misunderstandings, in other words the things that we can do to “tick a client off.”

Not the big things, like the failure of the show or installation, or accidentally backing our van into his/her new Mercedes, but the little things that subtly foul up a client relationship.

I believe it was Jan Carlzon of Scandinavian Air Systems (SAS) who taught us that every interaction with the client, no matter how small, was considered “a moment of truth”. In other words, that every time we interact with the client our relationship with them is made better or worse, strengthened or weakened. Many of these interactions are so small or inconsequential that neither we or the client consciously think about them. They simply add or subtract in subtle ways from the quality of the relationship.

ticked-off-0616Here are a few, in no particular order, because their order of importance will be different for each individual client:

Get their name wrong.

This one has always been a faux pas, and even in these times of Twitter a person’s name remains the one thing that we must get right. Look, my name is Joel Rollins, and unless I decide to become an dark, underground revolutionary figure with a single name (like “Lenin” or “Sting”), it probably always will be. I don’t mind when people spell it wrong in introductory emails, but by the time I am writing checks to them, I really expect my name to be spelled correctly on the bills. And so do my clients. We have a pretty easy-going office, but my staff all know one way to “tick me off” is for me to see correspondence going out with the client’s name spelled wrong.

Fail to deliver.

I can hear people saying it: “No kidding, genius.”

Failure to deliver a project as promised is of course one of the “seven deadly sins.” But you can failed to deliver on little things that are not deadly to the client relationship but are annoyances that add up. For instance, I have a client who has become a good friend, who admitted to me recently that he became annoyed with me at times when I would mention an article or blog that I have read, and tell him that I would forward a link, and forget to do it. These are the kind of things that a client will not call you about, and will not mention. They are simply annoyances.


I often say that we become too casual about the business that we are in. We forget, as we do shows and installations every day, that the projects we work on are not every day things for most of the clients that we deal with. In fact, many of them represent risks where they went out on a limb to make a decision to give us the project. Sometimes, when it is all over, and we have worked shoulder to shoulder with the client for a while, we forget to say thank you. And no, the form letter of thanks that is attached to the bill does not suffice. Neither does sending bagels or t-shirts. What the occasion calls for is a simple handshake and a word of thanks. Make sure they get it.

Details, details, details.

All of these things may seem rather petty. That is because they are. But, as humans, we are often guilty of being petty. Each of those things may seem like something that a client should let pass, and they may be.

But now, think about a client relationship where one of your people spells the client’s name wrong, another fails to deliver an email address they promised to forward, and at the end of the project, during the sign-off, one of your people forgets to say thank you. None of these things taken alone will cause the client to complain. But, taken altogether, and repeated, they may cause the client relationship to simply fade away quietly.

Are these things important to you and your organization? That decision, in itself, is a “moment of truth.”