I have been dealing with customers for many years (more than I can count using all my fingers and toes), and at some point I observed a phenomena that repeats all the time, and I called it: “The Flipping Point”.
Let me explain it. In our relationship with our customers there are always some issues: the disruption caused by a defective part or a late delivery, the report that is not submitted on time or an unanswered phone call (or text message), the incomplete document submission, etc.
To a certain degree all that is understood and tolerated on a daily basis. To a “certain degree”.
Then, suddenly, either caused by a more significant event or an accumulation of smaller ones, we cross an imaginary line in our relationship with the customer and he or she explodes.
That is the Flipping Point.
Part of the phenomena is that when it happens, even the things that were recently tolerated are now unacceptable. The minor crimes are now punished with the equivalent of a professional death penalty.
The emails become harsh, the meetings become rude, the topics are easily escalated to the highest level of the organization, and so on.
The next part of that process is the difficulty to bring the relationship back to the level it was before: below the Flipping Point.
It typically takes significantly more energy to cross the invisible line in the other direction. A significant time factor is always involved. We now have to re-gain the customer’s confidence, which brings me to the obvious conclusion: it is better to invest the effort to never pass the Flipping Point than it is to recover from that nuclear explosion.
The fact that makes the line invisible is that we are talking about human relations, and everyone has a different pain tolerance level, so you will not find here my formula for how many minor issues or how many significant ones it would take to cross the line. It depends on your customer.
Now that you are getting tired of nodding in agreement to what you are reading, let me make a fair extrapolation: the Flipping Point is not a phenomena that manifests itself in the professional world only.
Can you see this applying between you and your spouse, or you and your kids?
In those relationships as well, there are only so many little annoying things you can do or any major ones (one?) before you cross the Flipping Point.
So, the conclusions of this extrapolation are:
- If you are below the Flipping Point, do your best to stay there
- If you find yourself past that point, take a deep breath, and prepare to work hard to bring that relationship back to the good side of our mysterious Flipping Point
It is worth it.