Have you ever said you would take care of a problem, knowing you weren’t going to do anything about it? Maybe it’s just one customer complaint out of thousands of customers. Does it really matter if you say you will fix it to make the customer happy and then let it drop? Yes it does for several reasons. First, your word is now questionable because you didn’t follow through on it. Secondly, that customer may give your organization a second chance and when they find no change, the word of the entire organization has lost its meaning.
About two weeks after I transferred from one factory to another I was called to address some concerns and questions from our field service representatives. One, Pierre, was really angry with the quality of several products coming out of that factory. Unfortunately, this was the first I heard about it, so all I could do was say I would check into it and find a solution. Pierre basically said my word was worthless because my predecessor had said that for years and nothing had changed. Why should he believe me? Now I’m really on the spot, what can I say as he had been let down more than once by this factory? He was right to be mad. I acknowledged his frustration and gave him my word it would be addressed immediately. He still wasn’t buying it. Fortunately for me there was a rep in room that I had worked with several times to fix problems while I was at the previous factory. I knew Mike had been satisfied more than once with my efforts so I asked him to vouch for me. He did and Pierre gave me a short window to address his concerns. I found the issue that was causing his concern and changed the process to improve the quality. The people performing the process had never heard of the issue; they weren’t thrilled with the change however they were willing to do what was needed to improve the quality of their work. It put the problem to bed once and for all. Our field service folks were much happier with the quality from the factory as were the end customers.
I can’t say for sure why my predecessor never really addressed the cause of the complaints but it really damaged the reputation of the factory with several field service representatives, dealers and end customers. The time it took to address the quality issue was about a week total, investigating the cause, determining the best solution, communicating the change and then monitoring it. Inside of a month it became a non-issue for production. Yet it had festered with our customers for about three years and it took another year for them to really believe we would live up to our word. By promising a fix and not changing anything it cost three years of mistrust and a year of rebuilding for something that took a week to get implemented. That’s a poor investment in time and effort.
Following through on a commitment to a customer or co-worker may take extra time and effort on your part, but it is far less than it takes to fix the damage caused by dropping the ball. Once people feel they cannot trust you to come through for them it will be very difficult to convince them to trust you. People will give you the benefit of the doubt the first time, after that it is based on your past performance. Skipping the follow up means your word is worth less than it was before and you may be bringing down everyone around you in the eyes of the customer.
It seems easy to make the promise and let it drop, however the damage can last years and haunt you and your organization. Take the time to do what you said you would do, it will be less than the time needed to repair your reputation. Develop the habit of being true to your word.