Monday, 2 March 2009

Joergen's Famous Letter

In a competitive marketplace where businesses have to scrap for a limited number of customers, customer satisfaction is perceived as a key differentiator and has become an important element of business strategy. Companies spend large sums of money in detailed analyses as to who are their customers, what are their needs, how adequately these needs are addressed by the company’s products and services and how can these customers be kept satisfied so that their loyalty can be assured.

While all this is very fine, some customers can never be satisfied. SPT, so shall I call him, for fear of libel suits and such like, was an example.

SP, as he was popularly known, was one of our VIP customers in Delhi. SP was a canny businessman and got into exports quite early. Business grew rapidly within a short span of time and with the expansion came the need for more products and services. Suppliers tripped over themselves to offer him every enticement in the book to make him purchase their products and SP played one against the other to get the best deals. Negotiations with SP were long-drawn-out affairs; finally when you managed to snatch the order from the jaws of your competitors, it was, at best, a pyrrhic victory, for there was virtually no profit in the deal—in fact, after provisioning for warranty and related expenses, you could consider yourself lucky if you didn’t lose money at the end of the day.

Negotiating for the best deal is, of course, every customer’s right and that was all right. But with SP, your troubles had only begun once you got the order from him. He bitterly complained and fought all the time about clauses in the Letter of Credit, equipment lead times, delay in installation, deficiency in training his operators, short-shipments, wrong shipments, warranty claims, product quality issues, you name it.

SP was what is politely referred in corporate circles as a “high-maintenance customer”. What they actually mean of course is that he is a pain in the rear.

On a Friday afternoon, Joergen gets a letter of complaint from SP. We have installed a machine at SP’s factory a few months earlier and the letter is a bitter tirade against the company pointing out how miserably we have failed in executing the order. The letter demands financial compensation and also broadly hints to legal recourse if the demands are not met forthwith.

Joergen, who has been personally overseeing the order execution considering the customer’s cantankerous reputation, is not amused. It is obvious the customer is resorting to wild exaggerations, half-truths, and even blatant falsehoods to take undue advantage of the company.

On Monday morning, Joergen calls his secretary and dictates a letter, the first para of which goes something like this:

“Dear SP,
Shortly after reading your letter which I received last Friday evening, I was carried out in a stretcher from the office frothing at the mouth and in convulsions. After having spent the weekend in an expensive psychiatric facility mostly under heavy sedation, I have recuperated enough to come to the office today to reply to the baseless allegations and impossible demands put forth in your letter...”

SP never complained thereafter.

Cartoon Courtesy:


Vijay said...

Classic !!!

Customers like that are a pain..sometimes I wonder if its even worth the effort...

Razigan said...

A tit for tat!!

To the extent I know about business, the businessman generally use alternative courtesy options like offering dinner, giving personal gifts etc to tackle these kind of customers.

But that hospitalization thing was funny.

Anonymous said...

I once remeber Jorgen's way of handling things whre one can learn a lot. I was with him for an appointment with a so called Real Big customer in Bombay. The customer was never their in the appinted time. Having waited for 10 minutes Jorgen walked out informing the customer's PA that when your boss knows how to keep up the time I will come and meet him. Since them customer became a very good friend of Jorgen and we didsell a lot of machines to him!!!!!

Anonymous said...

LOL. Finally, it's the customer who dictates how he should be dealt with, eh? ;)

You know what you say in your opening line is very true. And it just made me realize that customer satisfaction, which should in fact be quite the point of a business has been downgraded to merely being one factor/aspect - important or otherwise - to be considered in the checklist. Scares me.


B K CHOWLA said...

I had almost , a ,similar expereince with my customer in Bombay.Instead of hospitalisation, he went home for rest and even refused to take a call for 8 days.(he was recovering)
finally,paid up after arranging funds AND RECOVERED IMMLY AFTER

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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.