The Customer Is Always Right?
Did I really put a question mark on this phrase? We’re taught from our first job bagging groceries and ripping up movie stubs that the phrase ‘The Customer is Always Right’ will end in either an exclamation point or period. It’s a subject that has finally got me motivated to begin my blog…
I have a client who is a tremendously successful businessman, salesman, and entrepreneur who currently owns a business that markets to small business owners and folks looking to potentially start their own ventures. He’s certainly someone that deserves to be applauded for his decades of accomplishments though he does a pretty good job of that himself. I have tremendous respect for his drive and work ethic and actually got to know him by investing my company’s marketing dollars with his organization. Over the years we’ve become quite good friends having many interesting conversations ranging from politics and economics to health issues, family, and sports. In fact, I’d say the majority of calls I field from Owner are of a personal nature but with a smattering of business dealings. Over the years I’ve learned the nature of a call can be uncovered in about 3 notes (for any Name That Tune fans out there). A personal call has the Owner speaking at a somewhat high-pitched volume of 7 and begins with a heartfelt “Ferretts, how you doing guy…” while a business call begins at a nearly inaudible volume of 3 at an octave lower with “Ferretts, you got a minute”? More on this later.
Several months back the Owner and I were in a conversation about a potential change or two he’d been looking at on his team and how he was at the point to get me started on a search. He gave me some details on the job and I immediately had a candidate in mind. As I am very familiar with the profile he prefers I typically have lengthy interviews with solid candidates to drill down into their real desire to work in a fast-paced startup, wearing many hats, and for lower pay but potential equity. I had that exact conversation with this young lady and presented her exactly 2 months ago to the day. There was immediate interest on the Owner’s part and we started with having the CEO speak with her for several hours. That conversation went swimmingly and the CEO/Owner/I had a conversation to lay out the interviewing process, which was then conveyed to the candidate.
Owner is a huge fan of The Predictive Index (PI) which is a personality profile he’s used for the better part of 20 years with great success. This Index is an essential part of his hiring process which he uses in conjunction with administering a Wonderlic, thereby gaining insight into both a candidate’s personality and cognitive abilities. If the candidate fits the right PI profile and scores well on the Wonderlic the Owner will invest his time in an interview, otherwise we move to the next person. This candidate apparently had a tremendous PI for the role and a Wonderlic that must have been more than adequate as the Owner sat down with her for the better part of two hours. The feedback was tremendous on both sides and the Owner asked for a Marketing portfolio (the Marketing version of a ‘Brag Book’) and samples of her writing which were quickly handed over. By this time the CEO and Owner had both spent a lot of time understanding marketing programs the candidate has led in the past as well as getting some specific ideas she might explore in the limited capacity that she understood the company itself and what marketing programs they’d attempted in the past.
As December was moving into week two (yes, we’re about 7 weeks in at this point) another pair of interviews had been requested of the candidate, separate discussions with the CEO and also their lead salesman. Both interviews went off without a hitch and discussions of an offer had begun. I had conversations with both the Owner and CEO and it seemed like we were pretty close on what I thought it would take to close the deal. It was kicked into their court to hammer out a plan over the weekend with a plan for us to reengage on Monday and see if we couldn’t finish this thing up before Christmas.
I expectedly fielded a call on Monday night from the CEO who proceeded to walk me through a discussion he had with the candidate earlier that evening. Although I’d been kept in the loop from the Owner or CEO every step of the way I had no idea this call was being made, in fact all indications were the next call from CEO/Owner to Candidate would be offer details. Anyway, the short version of the conversation was they wanted her to create a marketing plan for their company on how exactly she was going to leap their organization from point A to point B in the coming months. Based off this plan they’d decide whether to hire or not. Keep in mind the job itself is for a person to come into the company and create a marketing plan to leap the organization from point A to point B in the coming months!
Can you imagine telling an accountant to finish your personal taxes and THEN you’ll let them know if it’s worthy of your payment? Or chat up a defense attorney and let them know they’ll only see a fee if you agree with the judge’s decision. As screwed up as the Pitt Athletic Department is I’m pretty sure they didn’t tell new football coach Mike Haywood he’d only be hired AFTER he produced the 2011 Recruiting Class. Next time you’re sitting down at a fancy restaurant let the server know that you’re only paying for the meal if it meets your approval…see how that works out for you!
Even after 12+ hours of interviewing, administering a PI & Wonderlic, review of sample writings and a Marketing portfolio I could understand asking for a summary 30-60-90 type business plan but was shocked to hear they just told her that the document she would be hired on to create and execute is now a prerequisite for an offer, with no guarantee that one is forthcoming. The candidate was taken aback by this request which somehow sent shockwaves through the CEO and Owner resulting in the call I received. After a solid conversation with the CEO on potential missteps he’d taken and some creative ways to get this hire back on track it was agreed that CEO/Owner/I would talk later that night.
A call begins at a nearly inaudible volume of 3 at an octave lower than normal with “Ferretts, you got a minute”? After a ten minute sermon on the life of a startup and how the Owner has been hiring people for decades we get around to talking specifics on this latest request. It’s certainly never easy for a small business owner to pull the trigger on a hire but the Owner refuses to make this offer without “knowing exactly what she can do” while adding in items like “if this is the dream job she says it is, she’ll do it” and “we didn’t pursue her, she pursued us” (which, by the way, is not at all the case). A recommendation to discuss a 30 or 60 day contract with the expectation of full time work (more or less, a paid trial) was shot down as the Owner was now fully insulted that I wouldn’t just acquiesce to this latest request and force the candidate to provide, for free, the same service she was expecting to be paid for. At that point the Owner decided it was best of us all to part our separate ways and forgo any future business dealings.
Now is the customer always right? Absolutely not!
Yes, customers pay my salary and, sure, I’m not seeing a fee for my work on this one but have we really gotten to the point where companies will now just cross the line of ethics because a candidate naively announces this to be a dream job and they see this as a way to exploit that interest and enthusiasm? I hope not, or I’ll have to seriously consider a career change.