by Dean Whittaker

This month I had the opportunity to be reminded of how important relationships are. One of our clients asked to have their money refunded because they were disappointed with the way they had been treated and in the results of our work. Our company policy since its founding 20 years ago is to refund a client’s money if they are dissatisfied with our work. We have refunded money six times in twenty years. This particular request amounted to a large percentage of our annual revenue. Needless to say, it was a significant issue for a small company.

Our client provided us with a tremendous opportunity to learn. They spent a considerable amount of their time explaining how they felt about how they had been treated at various stages in their project. They explained that they felt we had been inflexible on minor issues, we had refused to modify our process to accommodate their needs, and we had forced them to use our technology rather than having personal interaction with them. They also told us how much better our competition had done in building and maintaining a relationship with their organization. This was painful to hear, but very important.

A reputation is the result of our relationships. Reputations take years to build and can be destroyed in one thoughtless act. We do repeat business with those organizations that we respect and trust. Repeat business, just like the expansion of existing companies, helps an organization to thrive. Therefore, doing what is right matters. We do not deserve our client’s money if we haven’t met their needs. It is that simple.

One of the many lessons I learned from this experience is how critical it is to start building and maintaining healthy relationships. Deepak Chopra, in Seven Spiritual Rules of Success , reminds us that what we pay attention to grows in our life, and what we don’t will wither and die. This includes all of our relationships. How much time and energy do you spend building and maintaining your relationships?

The first relationship I would like to discuss is our relationship with ourselves. How do we treat ourselves? Are we brash, excessively critical, or are we loving and caring towards ourselves? Deepak Chopra also says that our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with ourselves. The behavior we criticize in others is the aspect that we most dislike about our own.

This story may have a happy ending. After making arrangements to refund their money, we asked if the work we had performed up to this point had any value to them. This caused our client to review the work once again. They decided that it did have some value to them and, as a result, they would like to give us a second chance, but with the caveat that we restart the project with a new approach and a new contact person within our organization responsible for our relationship with them. This seems like more than a reasonable request which we have agreed to honor. Now, it is up to us to re-earn the right to serve them.

Some of the lessons that I learned from this experience include:

•  Treat others the way you want to be treated.

•  Frequent personal contact is vital to building and maintaining healthy relationships.

•  Be mindful of the first signs of a breakdown in the relationship – slowness to respond, phone calls not returned, slow payment, reluctance to share information, shifting project parameters, and a host of others.

•  Do the right thing.

•  Healing damaged relationships is critical to our happiness and well being.

•  We each must assume 100% responsibility for our relationships.

•  Everyone in an organization is a “relationship manager” with the responsibility of maintaining and building the organization’s relationships with its clients.

•  Relationships are built upon mutual respect, trust and commitment.

I regret that my client had to pay the price of poor services to teach me the lessons that I needed to learn. However, I am very grateful that they took the time to help us improve. Relationships do matter. Are you paying attention to yours?