How Some Trusted Relationships Can Kill Your Business From Within

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Another in the popular “How To Be Taken Seriously” category. It all comes down to personal trust, whether you’re a one-person shop, a small business, or a multi-billion dollar corporation.

As I’ve mentioned a few times already, I finally bought an apartment in Manhattan. Years of renting have come to a close as I signed close to 1,453 documents over the course of an afternoon in exchange for two lock keys and one mailbox key. I’m a homeowner. Yes, it’s scary as hell, with each day bringing up more scariness excitement than the day before. But the one thing that keeps me smiling is this: Because I own, I can create. Or, in less dramatic terms, I can mold my new place to what I want it to be, all the fun geeky things I’d always dreamed of, but was never allowed to do in a rental building.

Examples I doubt I’ll do, but have thought about: (For those who are familiar with how my brain works, this shouldn’t come as much of a shock…)

  • Digital Shower: A computerized shower that with a touch of a button knows who I am and the temperature and pressure I like my water.
  • Retina/voice print scans instead of key-locks.
  • HVAC unit that senses my body temperature and adjusts accordingly.
  • Waterproof iPads…

You get the idea. Chances are, I won’t wind up doing any of those things, but because I own, I like knowing that if I ever hit the Mega-Millions lottery, I can.

And there sits today’s quagmire.

The one thing any new homeowner knows is that a contractor, someone who you hire to do any type of work in your new home, has to have the following qualifications:

  • He has to be licensed.
  • He has to be insured.
  • He has to have knowledge of the job you want him to do.
  • And a billion times more important than any of that, he has to come recommended to you by someone in a very, very small circle of people. A contractor hire rarely comes from a Google search listing, or (for those of us over 30) a Yellow Pages ad. A contractor has to come recommended by someone you trust implicitly. End of story. This is one of those times where the personal recommendation trumps anything else. If your best friend loves his new closet, or your office-mate for the past ten years can’t stop raving about his new kitchen, that matters universes more than an Yelp review by someone you don’t know, or all the Angie’s List recommendations in the world. Personal trust in this situation has mattered long before the Internet or Social Media, and it’ll matter long after. A contractor recommendation is one of the ultimate signs of trust, up there with letting a friend date your sister. If you recommend a contractor to someone, you’re putting your full reputation on the line.

Unfortunately, I’m beginning to get this strange feeling that everyone knows this but the majority of contractors. And sadly, I think this extends to a good number of situations where people put their reputation on the line recommending someone they know for anything – a job, a speaking gig, a consulting assignment, or even a dentist or doctor. And that is a horribly bad thing. Here’s why:

I posted on my Facebook page personal page, where my connections are based on people I know in person in some capacity or another. I asked for personal recommendations of contractors who had worked for my personal connections. Made sense, right?

I got about seven or so recommendations. I contacted three.

The first person I called scheduled a meeting with me for a Wednesday at 3pm. I gave him my address, he repeated it back to me. 3pm on the day of the meeting came and went. At 3:45, he called me, and said the following: “Sorry I’m late, I’m on <a street about four miles away> (In Manhattan, that’s like, eight towns over) I’ll be there by 4, 4:15 at the latest.” Keep in mind, first contact came 45 minutes late. I had a 4:30 meeting downtown, so I thanked him, but told him we’d have to reschedule Needless to say, I didn’t call him back. If he can’t make the first meeting on time (heck, not even on time, how about less than 30 minutes late?) how can I go into a potential working relationship with him involving my home when his actions before we even meet are what I now have as my reference point?

Not mine, but still as pointless.

Second person: Showed up 15 minutes late, but showed up. Did a lot of measuring, and actually listened to what I asked for (a simple shower redesign, the current shower from the previous owners doesn’t have a door – it’s one of those ultra-modern “half-glass doors” that are supposed to look cool, but in actuality, wind up soaking the floor every time the shower is used.) He took notes, and I filled out a one-page form with my contact info and email. He left, saying he’d be in touch by early next week. (This was Thursday.)

The following Thursday, after not hearing back, I emailed him asking if he was still interested. Four days later, on Monday, I got an email “Sorry, got slammed on another project, will have ideas for you by mid-week.”

I’m sure my simple shower redesign isn’t his biggest project, but by this point, I felt lower than low on his to-do list, and when I finally got his email the following Wednesday (which wasn’t complete, but was just two ideas, and 13 days after we first met,) I just let it go.

The third person had a similar story, which I won’t bore you with. Suffice it to say, it’s a over a month since I got the keys to my new place, and the shower is still more akin to a yard sprinkler than a closed-in shower with a door.

But this isn’t about my bathroom-turned-swampland. It’s bigger than that.

It’s almost 2012. By now, it should be obvious to us that our job is no longer to do our own PR. The days of telling other people how amazing we are and hoping they believe us are long dead and gone, and they’re never coming back. Today, where asking for a recommendation is as easy as typing 140 characters from whatever device we happen to be using at the time, our job is to “wow” our current customers (fans, followers, audience, etc.) so hard, that they go out of their way to do our PR for us – I.e., they recommend us to their friends. AND THEN TO DO THE SAME MOVING FORWARD.

The problem is, once we get recommended, if we then fail their friends, we’ve not only lost one potential new client (1), and we’ve not only lost the current client who recommended us in the first place (2), but we’ve lost any potential future recommendations from anyone within both circles. (10? 1000? 25,000? 500,000?) That’s the kind of formula that can bankrupt your business, big or small, end of story.

If we’re going to rely on our reputation to get us new clients, our reputation has to be AS GOOD, if not BETTER, than our most recent job, EVERY SINGLE TIME. And here’s why: I trust the people who recommended their contractors to me. If their recommendation fails, whether it be for a friend/employee/consultant of theirs, or (and this is where it hurts) a person within their own company, I doubt I’ll trust any future recommendation from them again. In other words, the initial recommendation someone gives pays it forward, for good or bad. If the recommendation turns out to be bad, it reflects on the recommender as well as the recommended. In this day and age, when we’re all connected in our digital villages, one bad recommendation is enough to ruin your reputation, your business, and even the value of your word.

My speaking and consulting gigs are probably 90% by recommendation from current and previous clients, and it’s a continuing pattern. If I suddenly stop caring, that cycle stops, and so does my income. Not good. Remember: This isn’t just about the person you recommended: This is about YOU, because it was your recommendation to begin with. In other words, we are who we recommend. And, as it usually does, it all comes down to customer service. Whether you’ve been recommended by someone’s trusted soul-mate, or through a recommendation engine like Yelp or Angie’s List, the end result is the same: We have to strive to impress, every single time, whether a 50-time repeat customer, or a new lead, with the hope that you’ll fulfill what they want.

That being said, I could really use a trusted recommendation for someone to install a new shower door.

Thoughts? Let me hear them below.


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