How NOT to have a working business relationship

I’m guessing it’s business jargon-speak for “paring down.”

Pareto chart.

Another tale from the same company:
A few years later, we were wrapping up the SAP implementation with the solid paints business. That’s not “solid paint” as in colored pencils, but as in aerograph: from cars to keychains. The cashier’s desks in your local supermarket may very well have painted with our products. The factories which formed the solid paints business were recent purchases; the American ones had already started working on unifying the product catalog and so forth but the European ones still worked independently.

There were “customers” from countries in Africa and the Far East who would ask for samples of things like rainbow metallic paint and get them, because hey, possible sale, right, but they never placed an actual order. 1kg samples of things priced in the 4000 USD/kg range :smack:

When we found out we ran to the business’ head honchos howling “we found a huge hole in our wallets!” (hey, the yearly bonus was based on the company’s global ROI, it was our money too).

I already defined “paretizing” for this context:

The name comes from Wilfred Pareto, an Italian macroeconomist (later naturalized Swiss) who studied economic imbalances during the early 20th century. He discovered that economic power and property was being concentrated more and more and warned that this would lead to an explosive situation, that a situation where less people have more power is more socially unstable than one with a more spread-out distribution of money and power.

Eventually this ended up being grabbed by microeconomists (people studying businesses, not countries like Pareto), later business people, later engineers, and evolved into notions such as “20% of the customers represent 80% of the sales” or “10% of the problems cause 90% of the breakdowns”, which tend to be spouted as if that was the way it should be. Paretizing refers to detecting that small amount of X which will produce the greatest benefit/cost ratio if you act upon them, and then acting upon them. In the CSRs story:

  • find out which are your bad customers,
  • hasta la vista baby

Note that that small amount isn’t always something you need to get rid of: making sure that 20% of your customers who represent 80% of your sales is Very Happy would also be paretization.

What eulalia posted is the engineer’s version, graphical of course because we like our pictures :slight_smile:

Oh, we did. Believe me, after he shat on my new coworker who tried to be helpful by answering one of his emails, said coworker now stays out of it. Then he did it again to one of our customer service managers who tried to helpfully answer his question. Now only one of us (self-selected) answers him.

Believe me, managers are included in the distribution lists he attaches to every email! The visibility is there. The issue he’s boiling over at is a known pain point. It’s a new and very complex product we have, still evolving and being improved constantly. This dude just has an extremely low frustration threshold. But due to the complexity and moving target nature, we all agree with him that it’s difficult and frustrating. Even so the blatant rudeness is unprofessional.


Now, an outsider might think that he was sold a product that doesn’t work, by people who knew it didn’t work, and that he was not winning these particular Unprofessional Stakes. It really would suck to be on the customer service end of that, but I do wonder exactly why it was rolled out when it was.

Your industry regulated by the SEC, is it?

Is this guy like that when you talk one-on-one? Is he a jerk in meetings? This probably won’t surprise the boss.

This is a really good idea. I would also suggest that your team NOT respond immediately to this guy, since it sounds like he has trouble gathering his thoughts. Wait a few hours, and then respond to all of the questions at once.

If it continues, I’d then approach it as a “communication concern” with the guy’s boss. Your company wants to be certain that you provide stellar customer service and responses, but your staff have had these issues…yadda yadda. You know the drill. But I really bet that you aren’t the only people to notice that this dude is a flying, flaming asshole.

Shrug, my own industry often provides things in an “as approved” state: “we’ll go live with This, This and This, but leave ThisOtherList to be fixed during the first month of support and ThisOneThing for after the first month’s end closing”.

The last one tends to be because the customer doesn’t quite like their financial reports but can’t explain why. Last time it turned out to be a matter of “the stock report has the exact same six columns as the old report but they are in a different order”. The people who worked with that report on a daily basis liked the new order better; the person who did not and who only looked at it once a month got a personal setting so he’d be able to see things his way (it’s not programming work, you just move the columns around on the screen and click a button). Other times it’s been more complex; a dreaded one is “uh, we just realized we want to redefine our whole costing structure again”.

Sometimes one team drops the ball, sometimes the other one does, and sometimes it’s just one damn spiky ball.

And in my industry the instructions, never mind the product itself, must have no errors. Actually, it’s more than that; they must leave as little room for user error as possible, too,

And we can really get nailed on marketing, especially marketing a product for a use that has been rigorously proven.

And we cannot fire a customer.

This is why I am not in a customer facing position; I wouldn’t last a week.

This complicates matters greatly. “Known pain point” translates roughly to “Yep, we screwed up and we know it”. “Still evolving and being improved” translates to “It’s still not working right”. The customer has every right to complain. Yes, it should be kept on a professional level, but that is just not always going to happen. His bosses may see him as a white knight, holding the vendor’s feet to the fire and not taking no for an answer.

My next suggestion would be to create a formal Action Plan (issue, root causes, planned actions, timeline and owners, resolution, etc.) around the issue and keep him in the loop (on the team, even) until the issue is resolved. Painful for the team in the short run, perhaps, but you may well find a solution better than what your company would have come up with on it’s own.

Been there, done this, have the scars.

I don’t necessarily agree. Not every “pain point” is a screw-up. My company has a software product, and if we had an unlimited development budget, there are lots of things I’d like to change to save steps in certain processes. Unfortunately, we don’t have unlimited budget, so we have to prioritize. And every customer has their own idea of which item should be top priority.

If the jerk’s complaints are valid, then the above suggestions are fine. But don’t let him bully you into preparing an Action Plan for something that wouldn’t be your top priority without the bullying.

And all that is only tangentially connected to his lack of professionalism. No matter how valid his concerns, that needs to be managed. If his managers already see what’s happening and don’t have an issue with it, then go with the single point of contact approach (and make sure the contact is someone who doesn’t take things personally). And I’d still recommend considering if the money that customer brings in is worth the cost.

Yep, the pain point isn’t a screwup on our part but more in the realm of accommodating government regulations. Specifically EVERY government - in the world. Not exaggerating. The things he’s complaining about aren’t necessarily wrong (although sometimes they are) but also just things we’re all working hard to understand so that we can comply with the government in question. The moving target aspect of it is that we’re working to implement compliance with each government one or two at a time, as fast as we can.

Doc Jackson, I totally agree with you and have done what you suggest in other companies. In this case, the dude is actually participating in our action plan for the above mentioned project and this is what has him so frustrated. It’s possible the project is just too much for him, I don’t know.

Haven’t heard from him in a week or so now. It’s refreshing! :smiley:

Sounds like you have addressed everything you can, so bitch away! Seriously. I often confuse a bitch session with an invitation to solve the problem. My wife has tried for 26 years to train me out of that. At this point I’m thinking it ain’t going to happen.

“It’s quiet …”

“Yeah, too quiet …”