Remember your first day on that job you worked so hard to get? Maybe you felt lucky to have the opportunity, or that all your hard work was finally paying off. Either way, you probably aimed to shine by doing your best and going the extra mile to impress your boss and internal customers (i.e., coworkers). A similar thing happens with business owners, consultants, attorneys, etc; when they first open their doors for business, they usually go out of their way to win-over and delight customers with exceptional quality, thoroughness, responsiveness, and so on.
Then time passes…and you get accustomed to working that “new” job that isn’t so new anymore. You forget about how you had to contend with other candidates for the position, how diligently you prepared for the interview, and how you prayed for that “one shot” that would lead to your “big break”. Similarly, you stop aiming to beat deadlines. Rather, you feel making deadlines just-in-time is good enough, and lower your efforts accordingly. The same thing can happen with business owners, consultants, etc. At first, they may even question if they can be successful in the marketplace. Then, as a result of their efforts (and perhaps a little luck) they start to gain customers. Before long, they have more requests than they can easily deal with, profits increase significantly…
…and that’s when complacency sets in. For example, business owners, consultants, etc., stop looking for opportunities to improve products or services. As demand increases, they may even raise prices without offering anything more in return. Worse, they may be less responsive to customer requests or complaints, especially from “smaller” clients with whom they do less business.
As a business-to-business consumer (I own a consulting firm in Philadelphia), I’ve personally experienced the impact of complacency from a few vendors (e.g., IT consultants, marketing professionals, accountants, etc.). In some instances, it’s been enough for me to cease doing business with them and venture over to their competitors. Here’s a few examples of the most prominent forms of complacency:
Broken promises – Once, when looking for a vendor to help my business with IT needs, I came across a firm that took the initiative to start resolving my issue before I even agreed to contract with them! I was impressed, and they won my business. However, over time, that initiative eroded into empty promises such as “I’ll get that to you by the end of the day”, which routinely required me to follow-up days later to ask, “What happened to that thing you said you’d do”? Make no mistake, customers take note of what you promise, and you can be sure they notice even more when you fail to meet your promise. If a client or internal customer has to chase after you to rectify a missed commitment, you have succumbed to complacency.
Excuses – Broken promises are usually accompanied by excuses. For example, an advertising professional I used to do business with would often cite personal reasons for delays. “I’m moving this week”, “It was my birthday this week”, etc. It was as if the vendor forgot that I had paid for his service and the promises he made were business commitments (rather than favors). If you find yourself making excuses with clients or internal customers, complacency has probably set in.
Low priority – I recently had a vendor cancel a call with me about thirty minutes beforehand, stating, “I’m working on a big deal right now, let’s talk this evening or tomorrow”. By doing that, the vendor inadvertently conveyed that I was not a big deal. Similarly, I often did not receive responses from the vendor until nights and weekends, which made me feel like a side-project. Unfortunately, I see this type of complacency all too often with businesses who have a wide range of client account sizes (e.g., law firms that work with individuals as well as large corporations). If you’re not treating each customer as if they were your most important client, then complacency is probably an issue.
Interrupting – Talking over a customer is one of the best ways to convey that you do not care about their needs or perspectives. I once did a real-time experiment by continuing to talk when a vendor interrupted me. Can you guess what happened? The vendor kept talking over me; we were literally speaking at the same time! To push the experiment further, I disconnected the call and waited for the vendor to call back. When he did moments later, he simply stated, “I don’t know what happened there”, and then continued with his one-sided discourse! It was apparent that, in his mind, whatever I had to say was not important. If you find yourself interrupting your clients or internal customers, you may have become complacent.
Neglect – Business relationships with clients and internal customers require ongoing maintenance; if you don’t give them attention periodically, the relationship usually withers away. For example, a contract my business had with a vendor was nearing the end of its term. As the end of the contract drew near, and eventually passed, I was surprised to see that the vendor made no mention of it while we still conducted business. I let an additional week pass to see what would happen…and still nothing. Finally, when I raised the issue, the vendor responded with a gamut of complacency (excuses, low priority, interrupting, etc.). Then, to top it all off with a broken promise, the vendor stated they would get the contract renewal over to me the next day, but it arrived late. Discussions about renewing the contract should have been initiated by the vendor well before it was due to end. If you find you are no longer taking actions to maintain relationships with clients, you have likely become complacent.
In summary, the saying that the best employees are the ones who “apply” for their job every day rings true. Likewise, if you’re a business owner, consultant, etc., you should be working to win-over your clients every day. Otherwise, complacency creeps in and customers are lost.