Being 'blind' and 'deaf' just dumb for business

Jan. 1, 2020
Treating everyone the same is bad for business.

I remember visiting my grandmother’s house. She kept a small jade sculpture on a leather-covered, mahogany coffee table in the living room. The sculpture was of three monkeys — Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil and See No Evil — and they have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Perhaps because I’m still not sure what they were, and probably still are, trying to teach me.

Were they admonishing me not to listen to someone spreading tales? Was it a reminder to refrain from carrying those tales myself? Was it a simple warning to take action even while those around you did nothing? Or, were they just suggesting a delightful kind of deaf, dumb and blind delirium…a delirium that doesn’t always sound so bad?

The other day we received a letter from one of our suppliers. It implied that we were about to be placed on a credit hold for failing to pay a past due invoice. My initial reaction was anger. How could we have done something so irresponsible? Then I realized that we couldn’t have done something so irresponsible because we’re just too careful and the system we use has too many controls.

After realizing that this letter couldn’t have been meant for us, we began to focus our anger on the person who wrote the letter and included us on the mailing list.

As it happens, the letter was sent to every wholesale account the company had. It went to companies like ours — who have never had a balance — and to companies who have never paid an invoice on time. I received the same letter filled with the same thinly veiled threats as the shop owner who was three months behind and that really took me over the top.

The message was clear: pay your bills on time or face a 3 percent penalty; pay your bills on time or your credit would be cut off; pay your bills on time or buy your parts elsewhere. The fact that it went to everyone, even those of us who never had a balance, was just as clear: we are all the same, the good shop owners and the bad, those who are financially responsible and the flakes.

I called the company and asked to be connected with the author. I asked him if he understood the 80/20 Rule and the logical consequences of offending the 20 percent of his customers who did pay their bills on time. He didn’t feel it was a problem. He suggested the people who couldn’t seem to pay on time would realize the letter was meant for them, while those of us who never had a balance would recognize that it wasn’t for us.

I don’t like being falsely accused and I don’t like doing business with people who don’t hear their customers when they speak out. I don’t like doing business with suppliers who are blind either: blind to how hard it is to make and keep a loyal and lifetime customer. And I certainly don’t like doing business with anyone too dumb to recognize just how easy it is to lose one.

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