Every one of us will face challenges in our lives. Adversity to varying degrees will find us. We might lose someone we love, lose our jobs or even our health. Greatness is separate from mediocrity, not by the size of a challenge but in how great a meaning I attach to each challenge.
I want to tell you a story about adversity and how a man named Greg interrupted my ordinary routine. Greg’s conversation with me unfolds in a surprising way as you will soon discover. Let me say this much now – every customer is worth fighting for.
I want you to first imagine Greg, a retired middle-aged man residing on the West Coast of the United States. Searching for a new hobby and formerly from the UK. Greg grew up watching Ringo play drums and I narrate his emails (in my mind) with a sophisticated British accent. Greg has stumbled upon one of my site’s services and inquiries for more information.
Shooting a quick email detailing how he can learn additional information, he responds back in minutes. “Uh, Oh.” I thought while trying to answer my overflowing inbox. “I’ll have to get back to Greg in a few minutes, I can’t chit chat over email this minute!” I said to myself, as I raced to conquer email mountain. Hours passed, I answered a more urgent phone call and I never responded to Greg. I had completely forgotten. 48 hours later Greg took it upon himself to let me know.
As the co-founder of a company, I wear many hats including dealing with many of our customer inquiries. Greg was quite displeased with my response time and his frustration was understandable, he wanted answers and he wanted them now. I feared Greg might have some massive twitter account he was just waiting to unload his negative comments on. Worse yet, I feared Greg might never use our services and miss out on a chance to improve at his new hobby.
“Fine, that’s fair.” I thought, reading over his very pointed email. I decided to act according to my belief that frustration only stirs in one who is passionate. You can’t be frustrated about something unimportant to you. Quickly answering Greg’s inquiry, I offered him a discount rate on the membership fee, to help compensate for his frustration. I did emphasize that this small gesture did not make up for the poor experience in service he received. I empathized with Greg, apologized for the lack of service, and thanked him for addressing the issue. And, you wouldn’t believe Greg’s response.
First, I learned something valuable from Greg – “Your most valuable customers are the ones who get frustrated.” The customer, who types an angry email, is the customer who cared enough to share their deepest emotions with you. Replace frustration with any other emotion, that would cause one to write you at length, and you will begin to uncover how valuable their expressed feelings are.
After receiving the admonishment from Greg, I encouraged him to take me up on an offer I knew he couldn’t refuse. This began healing our temporarily damaged relationship. I envisioned his face shocked at my response and a smile slowly sweeping over his face, receiving generosity instead of an argument. Opening our email after just sitting down at his local coffee shop, I pictured him leaning into the wood table while his freshly poured coffee still steamed with heat. Greg wore a sweater over his dress shirt, appearing scruffy from a sleepless night, eyes glazed over as my words on his computer screen glared back at him, I visualized.
In our last exchange, Greg started to change his tune and apologize for his harshness. I quickly fired back, “No Greg, what you said was valid. It’s how you felt and I would have felt the same way!” Suddenly, Greg was offering back words of encouragement and support for the service he was receiving. His passion to be frustrated now replaced by a passion to commit. Later that evening, Greg explained he was nervous because of a recent diagnosis he received. Greg just found out he had cancer. It all made sense now.
Shapes & Sizes
You see, customers like Greg come in all shapes, sizes, and colors but carry the same characteristics. They are devoted, passionate and potentially ready to be frustrated. But while requiring more attention than others, you have to understand, that for them, they are buying more than a product or service from you. They are buying into what it is you do.
So, let me reiterate this powerful truth: “The frustrated customer is the valuable customer.” The customer who asks you a million questions is likely the devoted customer seeking to be understood and heard. To take offense or act defensive to Greg’s initial email would have dismissed his feelings, the opportunity for his business, and most importantly a personal relationship with Greg.
I encouraged Greg that his newest challenge was an opportunity. As a matter of fact, I didn’t just say it was an opportunity, but that his diagnosis held within itself the potential to redefine the remainder of his life. This challenge that Greg was up against was an invitation for him to rediscover purpose, heal damaged relationships, and to live an engaged life full of whimsy and joy.
The people in our lives passing by are far from coincidences. They are strategically placed in our paths with a purpose. You could call Greg a coincidence, or perhaps a fluke, but I call it a divine appointment. I believe it was God who wanted me to meet Greg, the frustrated customer. To slowly peel away at the scared older gentleman sitting in his big brown leather chair, who was not prepared to lose his hair in a battle he didn’t believe he was ready for. As Greg shared about his struggle, I shared about the opportunity. While he pondered his fate, I encouraged the life he still had to live.
I can’t possibly know what challenges you are currently facing or what will lay ahead for you. Challenges I myself may face are still uncertain. I cannot know what challenges are hidden behind each frustrated customer, either. Yet I believe each challenge deserves an adversary who it can’t knock down. A challenge deserves an opponent who will use the challenge to their advantage. It’s a test of our character and values. Greg’s challenge is his defining moment.
Here was Greg’s response after our last conversation:
Thanks for your beautiful words. They touched me more than I could ever say, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your love and prayers, which I reciprocate wholeheartedly.
And thanks also for your patience and understanding as I fight to get through this season and move on to the next. Yes, although this is not an experience I would have wished for, I’m sure I’ll learn and grow from it, which is probably what The Lord would want. I’m also sure He wants me to continue my studies so I can develop my proficiency, and become the person He wants me to be.
Thanks for everything Jake, and I’ll most definitely keep you posted as I go through every step of this journey.
Love, and blessings to you and yours,
The challenge isn’t a diagnosis. The challenge is an invitation. And I invite you to see life as a dance that is lovely when it’s hard and beautiful when it’s overwhelming. I hope this encourages you to lift up someone else and invite them on a journey they didn’t realize they were on.
“Anyone who has a why to live can bear almost any what.”