It began in August. I was contracted to conduct an analysis for a company that will remain unnamed. The analysis looked at some specific aspects around a new product launch and involved interviewing a number of executives and sales people from across the organization. In all I did over 40 hours of interviews. I spent twice that amount of time analyzing the interview responses, finding patterns and insights that applied to their specific situation, assessing linkages and developing insights.
I created a comprehensive report that included an executive summary, detailed findings, recommendations for success, and a large section with selected verbatim comments from the interviews.
I thought it was pretty good. We uncovered a lot of useful information regarding the launch process, the sales force readiness, and the work that needed to happen leading up to the launch that could really help the company be more successful. We had taken the pulse of the organization and reported it back in a clear and informative manner.
I’m not just tooting my own horn – the client was very pleased with the content and the findings also. No really he was. In fact, he stated in an e-mail, “I’m very happy with the content and findings and I’m glad I used your services…”
Great. Well done. End of story – right?
Not so fast… you knew something else was coming….
The client continued that e-mail with “…but while the content was on target, the quality of the finished document isn’t what I had expected or thought that I had paid for. I’d like to see a higher quality finished product that has both good content (which this does have) and is formatted in a professional manner.”
Verbatim. That was what the client wrote. We were not quite sure what that meant. So we asked him what was wrong with the “quality of the document?” He stated something to the effect, “It just doesn’t look professional”
Ok, that helps – NOT!
Now as many of you know, we here at The Lantern Group do a lot of work with companies helping them with their internal communications – this includes a significant amount of work with companies on how their communications look and how well they are understood. We are pretty proud of our work and while this was a report delivered in a PowerPoint template (the template, by the way, was supplied by the customer and we had to use it) and not a 4-color high gloss mailer, I still felt that it looked very professional. In fact, I felt that it looked pretty damn good for a report!
So we asked what specifically didn’t he like.
“The font seems pretty small. It will be hard to read. Also, I thought it would have more pictures.”
Really? That’s what you think makes this seem unprofessional. Really? I wanted to tell him that the font was at minimum a 14 point font and that this was never intended to be a presentation – but always as a lay-down document in which a 14 point font would be very large. And pictures? Really, pictures? This is an analysis on a what the key elements and issues were surrounding a new product launch intended for the executive team – it was not a sales brochure…but I didn’t say any of those things.
In fact we said we would fix it – free of charge by the way. That’s how we do things here.
In fact, to make sure that we responded to the clients issues, we brought in an outside graphic designer who went over the entire document. They added in some pictures. They changed some graphics to make them more colorful. They increased the font size. In my humble opinion, they took an already good looking report and they made the report look really, really good.
We sent that updated report to the client in early September. I personally followed up with him the next day asking for feedback and comments. I didn’t get any. The account executive also followed up a few times to see if the client was happy with the updated document. He didn’t hear anything regarding it either. We never heard anything regarding this issue ….
…until some of his invoices were 90 days past due.
We had contacted the accounting department at his company about this and they said that he would not authorize payment. When the account executive asked him why in an e-mail, he responded, that “As discussed previously, while the content was on target, the quality of the finished document was inferior. I will not authorize payment until this is corrected.”
Since we had not heard back from him before this, we had assumed everything was ok (of course we all know what happens when we ass u me). Obviously we must have really missed the boat. We had to have messed up pretty bad with this and he had to have been so out-of-sorts with the quality of the work that he withheld any payment on any of the invoices. Remember he thought our content was good – that had to be worth something, right?
I looked back at that document and tried to think about what was “inferior” about it and see if I could find a remedy. I couldn’t see it. I tried, but just couldn’t figure out what we had done wrong.
We would just have to talk to him.
So we had a call with him. I was nervous and a little pissed off before hand. Really, what did he find so horrible with this that almost 4 months later we are still not paid. I just didn’t understand. So we reviewed the final document we had sent back in early September. We apologized for not getting this right the first time. We asked what we needed to do. He said we needed to make a few changes before he would authorized payment. Drum roll please….here are those changes:
1st – change the font color from the blue/gray that matched the template color palate to a black font as he thought was easier to read.
2nd – make sure that we didn’t have more than two of the verbatim comments from the interviews on a page.
Yep, that’s it. Changing the font color from blue to black and splitting up pages that had three or four quotes so that they only contained two.
So multiple tens of thousands of dollars were being withheld because of a font color in a report that has already been seen and read by the launch team. We were being held hostage over the number of quotes on a page in a document who’s real intent was to shed light on issues, challenges and opportunities for this company?
I’m not sure the real reason or motivation behind the non-payment. Maybe he did feel like it wasn’t professional enough? Maybe he didn’t have the budget he said he did? Maybe he never saw the updated report that we had sent him? Maybe he just liked pulling our chains? I’m not sure and it doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that I’ve learned a few things from this experience:
1. Make sure deliverable expectations are clearly defined and agreed upon up front – here is what you will receive at the end of this project and it will look similar to this (show an example of a prior report).
2. Make sure to follow-up when you don’t hear back from a client – we had assumed that everything was alright after we had edited and sent off the new report – that was a mistake. We needed to ensure that we talked with the client and reviewed this solution with him.
3. Individual preferences vary significantly – what I thought was a perfectly good report was seen by the client as not up to par. We definitely did not see eye to eye on this.
4. Try to keep focus on the important things – I started to get upset and mad about this. It was starting to drive me nuts! Then I paused and realized that in the big scheme of things, it was very trivial. We had done good work – the client had said so. We didn’t agree on the “professionalism” of the final document’s look – that happens to the best of us. It cost us a little money, but in the end, I learned some stuff and I’ll be better the next time we have a client like this.
And I’m grateful for all of this. It makes me appreciate the good clients we have that much more.
In fact, I want to send them all a “THANK YOU FOR NOT BEING NUTS” card! It makes me really think about how we take things like courtesy and common sense and responsiveness for granted – and we shouldn’t. We really need to be thankful for those clients and let them know it.
So to all my “good” clients and even my “so-so” clients a very heartfelt and BIG THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!
Do you have a client or peer who drives you nuts!
Would love to hear any of your comments or experiences with those types of clients…and how do you deal with them? Just click on “comments” below. Thanks!