Success Conditions – Relationships

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”

– Warren Buffet

After six months of hard coding, my team and I were at the end of a large software development project. I thought things were going great, but as it turned out the customer wasn’t happy. “We paid for features that allow us to manage the booths in our annual convention”. Of course, this was a huge piece of functionality that I didn’t do a good job defining in the proposal when I wrote: “functionality to manage events”. I was upset and the client was upset.

I’m sure you’ve had a similar situation where communication wasn’t clear among all parties and now expectations haven’t been met. While there are techniques to employ (eg Agile) that will do a good job mitigating situations like this, the reality is that it is going to happen to you. The question is how will you respond?

In order to think through situations like this, it is helpful to place the conditions in first-order and second-order consequence scenarios.

Scenario 1. I stop work on the project until the client approves a change order. The first-order consequence would be that I make money. The second-order consequence is that I screwed over a client and they will not be happy.

Scenario 2. I have the client agree to a description of these new features and I build them at no charge. The first-order consequence is that I’m out a bunch of time and money. The second-order consequence is that the client is super happy.

So, which scenario did I choose?

My team and I worked nights and weekends for a couple of weeks to build the features. The first-order consequence was that we received a major financial loss on the project. But what was the second-order consequence? The client was pumped. In fact, it was strange because I would say that they were more pumped than if this situation had not come up at all. Ten years later, they are one of our largest on-going support contracts. In one year of support, we make as much as we lost on that original contract.

In our company, we default to doing what is best for the customer. We focus on their needs and serving them the best we can. If projects go over budget we always work through the issue with our customers to come to a fair solution. Sometimes that means eating the costs ourselves. In the short-term, this can result in financial loss. But investing in relationships is almost always a wise thing to do when you have a long-term perspective. When we have invested our time and resources in building relationships, we have received a return on the investment. Why? We have earned people’s trust.

Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose. But trust is how relationships are built. And if you have built strong relationships with your clients, you are creating a condition for success in the future. This condition connects you with real needs that need to be met. Attempting to meet these needs provides feedback as you try out new ideas, methodologies, and technologies. This learning ensures that you will be relevant in the future as you continue to meet the needs of your customers.

Your industry will change. If you have customers that trust you, you will continue to be able to serve them with solutions. This in turn ensures that your future will adapt well to the inevitable change. You may not be able to predict what will happen tomorrow, but relationships are a condition of success that will ensure you have a brighter one.

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