In late June of this year, my youngest daughter and I traveled to Italy for a nine day vacation. We saw enough churches, statues and paintings to last a lifetime. Ten years from now, when I think back on this trip, I’ll remember the crowds, the heat, the smell of Venice and the grudges.
Italians really know how to hold a grudge!
For example, in the 12th century, Pisa held a monopoly on salt and decided to tax it. The Florentines were so incensed that they cooked their Tuscan bread without salt. To this day, the recipe has not changed. That’s 900 years of holding a grudge!
I get the feeling that some customers have that kind of memory as well.
Have you ever walked into a company on a cold call and gotten an earful from someone who did business with your company long ago and had a bad experience? And by “long ago,” I mean years and years. It’s likely that he or she doesn’t even remember the details, and—since everyone is the hero in his or her own story—there’s a good chance that all that is remembered is the feeling of being wronged.
And they want revenge!
And they’re going to take it out on you!
I put this situation in the, “nothing to lose” category. There is virtually nothing that you could do to make the situation any worse than it is. You are not going to get any business from this customer so long as he or she continues to hold a grudge. That being the case, you really have a lot of options, including turning tail and leaving the building. But if you still have an interest in getting work from this client, here’s a process you can follow:
First, you need to apologize. Apologize for the inconvenience and for whatever wrongs occurred despite the fact that nothing happened on your watch. Be effusive with your apology and send not just one time and one way but several times in several ways.
Second, tell the customer that you would understand if they never wanted to do business with you again. You might go so far as to say that you probably would do the same. But then add something like this, “If you choose to give us another order, we’re going to treat that job as if it’s the most important piece of printing we’ve ever done. We want your business back and we know that we have some fences to mend. If you decide to give us a chance, we will earn back your trust one order at a time.”
Shake hands. Thank them for their time. Leave a business card. And walk out.
Nine times out of 10, you will never hear from that customer again. But, there is that one chance, where that one customer will think about what you have said and will decide to forgive you—putting the salt back in their bread so it doesn’t taste so nasty.
You can’t do anything about the way someone else feels. You can only stay professional and take care of your half of the relationship.
PS—My other favorite story was how Florence used to routinely conquer Sienna. In battle after battle, war after war, Siena fell to Florence...except for one year: 1260. Today, Italy holds a soccer tournament between the former provinces that now make up the country. When Siena plays against Florence, one of the more popular T-shirts worn by Siena residents has only one thing on the front: 1260. Talk about a long memory!
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