Posted by: Greg Siefert | July 9, 2009

How far will you go for your customers? Would you go even to Baku?

Fresh out of college, I went to work for a small technology consulting firm in Chicago.  One of my first customer meetings proved to be one of the most memorable!  I found myself sitting in a most unique office meeting with their technology executive, our business development guy, and another one of our consultants.  Here’s where the fun began.  The executive had both a unique look and quite a bit of personality.  Picture with me a sharp-dressed gentlemen, likely in his early fifties, his chiseled face surrounded by slightly graying hair, slicked back into a shoulder length pony tail.  Every movement he made was fluid yet dramatic. 

As he welcomed us into his office, the combination of his deep, accented voice and his unique look brought images of Transylvania to mind.  The initial part of the conversation was not too memorable…that is until our business development guy started playing with a little metal box on the executive’s desk.

“What” he started (pronounced more like “Vhut”), “What are you doing?”

“Just checking out your business card holder,” Mr. Business Development replied.

The other consultant and I shared a look…oh boy…this is not going the way we thought…but it sure will be interesting…

To make a long story short, after a severe scolding we found what the “business cards” actually were.  He slowly opened the container, pulled out a very expensive cigarette, and placed it in a silver cigarette holder.  In a single motion, his hand glided to the drawer and pulled out a custom Zippo lighter.  With a flick of his wrist, the lighter ignited.  He turned his head to the side and slowly (and dramatically) lit the cancer stick.  

“So…[inhale]…I understand you can help me” he continued as he leaned back in his chair holding his cigarette over his shoulder, turned his head, and exhaled toward some strange vent-like machine in his window.  Yeah…that’s right.  The dude had an iron-lung ventilator thingy installed in his office so that he could smoke inside.  This was starting to feel more like James Bond than Transylvania.

So we gave him our pitch and explained how we could help, all the while making sure our business development guy didn’t touch anything else.  We finished our pitch.

Silence.  A dramatic drag on the cigarette as his eyes bore into us.  Pause.  Head turned to the side and an equally dramatic exhale into the iron lung.  He repeated this another time as he continued to measure us.

Finally he broke the silence.  “Very good (don’t forget the accent).  So, you will travel?”

Picturing a fun international trip for himself, our business development guy jumped right in.  “Absolutely!  We do work around the world: Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Amsterdam… We’d be more than happy to go wherever we are needed.” 

The exec:  “This is good.”  His lips formed a mischievous and somewhat frightening grin as he continued, “Will you travel…[inhale]…[exhale]…even to Baku?”

Without missing a beat our business development guy replied, “Absolutely.  Our bags are already packed.”

The exec’s smile was no longer mischievous; it had shifted and was now menacing as he gave the classic bad-guy, evil laugh.  Then he said, “Interesting.  Do you know where Baku is?”

The other consultant and I, well…our eyes bored into our business development guy trying to communicate “ix-nay on the travel.” Too late.  Our business development guy didn’t quite get the message and jumped in before I could stop him, “We’ll go wherever you need us.  Like I said, we are ready and willing to travel the globe.” 

Looking delighted with himself, the exec replied, “This is good.  My people, they will not even go to Baku.  But you will go?  This is very good.”

Well, it turns out that Baku (which, as a side note, was featured in a James Bond movie) had been under Russian control, but has been quite highly contested as it has quite a bit of oil under its soil.  The hotels walls were riddled with bullet holes and no sane person would voluntarily travel there…especially to do a little technology upgrade.

As this was explained to us, our business development guy quickly changed his story.  “Yeah, these guys love to travel.  Me? Not so much.  But, these guys are ready to go…”

So what’s the point to this story?  As a team, we wanted provide a good experience and good service to our customer.  But we weren’t on the same page in terms of what that meant.  Our BD guy was focused on a great international trip for himself.  Did we really need to be onsite at each hotel to do the upgrade?  Likely not.  Did it really mean that we would ask people to risk life and limb?  Absolutely not. 

At the end of the day, it was apparent to the customer that we weren’t on the same page.  This example is truly an outlier, but we weren’t prepared.  Take some time in your organization to make sure you are consistent in terms of what Customer Experience means – from sales to operations, get everyone on the same page.

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