Many years ago, when I was a new First Line Manager, a client had a very nasty technical infrastructure problem that required a team of subject matter experts to resolve. During that same time, our company was going through the transition of trying to take the letter “R” out of “Free” with respect to support services.
The new corporate direction…support services are no longer free. The client contacted us and told one of my team members about their problem. Before the 1.5 hour one way drive to tackle the problem, the client was told the support services assistance would be billable. Before we understood the problem, we had already communicated to the client they were going to pay for the support…In other words, we kicked them while they were down (literally).
Needless to say, the client’s leadership team was not happy about our conversation. The technical team went out to work the client’s technical issue and after a few days, the problem was resolved. The client was happy the problem was resolved but, they were extremely irritated about the “fee support services” discussion before the root cause of the problem and more importantly, effort to resolve the problem was understood. Our business relationship was strained for quite some time afterwards.
Shortly after we solved the problem, I had a one-on-one, face to face meeting with the client and he gave me some very sage advice. His guidance was this…“we don’t have a problem paying for help – our problem was your organization appeared more focused on telling us we had to pay for your help than you were fixing our problem”. He also told me, “If you want to be a true partner, when we are in trouble, focus on getting our problem fixed and then let’s have the conversation on who should pay and for what”. His comments echoed an old saying, “your client does not care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
I have always remembered the conversation and my client’s advice could not be more relevant with respect to the April 2010 British Petroleum (BP) Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is a business partner of the United States of America. BP Oil provides fuel and lubricants that propel America. BP also provides jobs and community service projects in the geographies they serve around the globe.
The Program Leader who will lead BP and the U.S.A. out of the oil spill challenge will do so if they:
- Understand each of the core issues and the key parties competing interests on each of the core issues
- Resolve each major issue as a project
- Identify and align the right skilled resources where they can deliver the greatest value to drive success
- Manage / Lead the effort as a integrated Program
So the next time you have a large client or, business partner, with a very large complex problem, focus on the problem; focus on the solution; and don’t kick your client when they are down by making a big deal about who pays until you understand the problem, its root cause and how the problem is going to be resolved.