In one of my Soft Skill corporate training workshops on `Ownership & Accountability’, I gave the example of an appliance repairman in my neighborhood. His small shop is overflowing with appliances given for repair to him. His reputation and location make him a popular go-to person for most household appliance repairs. Last winter, I took a room heater to him for repair. Being the height of winter, his shop was literally overflowing with heaters. More than heaters, he had angry, desperate customers demanding that their heaters be repaired on a priority. I made my way to the front of the crowd (egged on by my wife) and gave him my heater which he grabbed happily. “Ask him when we will get it” said my wife, a request that I repeated. His automatic answer “In 2 hours”. It’s almost as if he was on auto-reply mode: 2 hours.
Every damn customer was given 2 hours time for their heaters! Which effectively ensured that every customer showed after 2 hours and then waited and shouted outside his shop demanding why their heaters were not ready!
Got me thinking: why do we automatically make time commitments that we ourselves know we won’t be able to keep. A project that we know we won’t be able to submit in time, a phone call we won’t be able to return, a meeting we won’t be able to attend, a promise we won’t be able to keep. But still these are all done and given. With a time frame attached to it. Makes the other person wait and then realize that we never intended to keep our commitment in the first place. A total Lose-lose situation. Leaves you looking like a fool and the other person feeling like one.
It’s a broad generalization, but we Indians are perceived to be slightly `flexible’ with our commitments. “I’ll try” is our auto reply when pushed into a corner for a commitment. As Grandmaster Yoda said in Star Wars: “Do nor Do not….there is no try”
When we make commitments that we cannot keep, we take on stress and tension. We stain our professional image irrevocably. We lose customers. We undermine relationships. We compromise friendships. People stop taking us seriously and this negative impression is sometimes impossible to remove.
So what can we do to ensure the integrity of our word?
- UnderPromise-OverDeliver: This means asking for more time than required but delivering in less. This helps us to prepare for contingencies and delays. Even if you know you can deliver in less, ask for more time. Then delightfully surprise the customer by delivering before the appointed time. Of course, common sense rules apply and the time frames communicated need to be reasonable.
- Walk the Talk: Say what you will do, then do what you Say. Avoiding a popular concept which can be summed up in Hindi `hawa mein baat karna’ (randomly talking without any facts) that is dangerous and wrong. Only commitments that can be truthfully kept must be communicated. The other person needs to be explicitly told what is possible and what’s not. This seals the integrity of your word.
- Instant gratification leads to long term pain: We have to realize that we cannot please everyone all of the time. By making false commitments, we may make the other person temporarily happy, but when the time comes and the commitment unravels…. There is no escaping the s**t when it hits the ceiling.
- Plan for contingencies: Planning is a quality of a true blue professional. Like we see e-commerce companies gearing up for the busy seasons. Hire extra help during peak season, stock up on parts, give replacements while repairs go on so that the customer’s life is not affected. This is what separates professionals from amateurs. Planning gives you the edge over the competition.
- Follow up : Once the product is delivered or the commitment is fulfilled, it is not the end of the job. It is in fact the beginning of a relationship. The second sale, the next transaction is what keeps a successful company going. The first sale is the easy part. The second sale shows that the promises you and your product made were kept by you…and now the customer is `Really’ ready to buy- for the long term.
So young founders and professionals: let us be careful the next time we say …back in 2 minutes. Because we live in a time where even 2-minute noodles also take 12 minutes to cook!
This article was first published in Linkedin Pulse
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