How End Users Can Get Their Voices Heard
In the January 2004 issue, we discussed what end users should reasonably expect from the companies that provide their electronic security products. The idea was if we’re reasonable and have realistic expectations, we stand a better chance of getting what we want.
But sometimes, reason and realism are not enough: You might need more than rationality to get what you want. As promised in January, let’s look at some strategies for escalating the issues and making sure your voice is heard loud and clear in those times when being reasonable doesn’t get you far enough.
Always Keep Meticulous Records
When escalating issues, the first step is always the same: Put it in writing. Pretend you are going to small claims court and you need to gather your evidence. You should put together a simple document with the following information:
What was promised – This is often very simple: a product that works. A client of mine purchased LCD monitors and loved the performance, but experienced a 50-percent failure rate. Now the client wants another brand or model because he can’t trust this particular monitor to make it past the warranty period. Clearly, he didn’t get what was promised.
If you were promised features or functionality that never materialized, make sure you have either the promise in writing or a list of dates, times and folks attending the meetings where the promises were made.
What was delivered – This is the physical discrepancy. For example, you were promised a digital video recorder (DVR) that would store images for a month but you’re only getting a week’s worth. Maybe a neat, clean and professional installation was specified, but no one has been back for a month to finish up the punch list items.
What you have done about it – You also need to show you have exhausted the reasonable approaches to solving the problem. Note the times you called, the E-mails, letters and faxes you sent, and the responses you received. This is where many complaints fall apart. If you haven’t provided an opportunity to fix the problem or haven’t documented your attempt’s failure, you need to go back and do this. It is essential that you document your efforts to properly build your case.
What you expect – Nobody likes a whiner, so make sure you’re being constructive. There are many things you can ask for, and you don’t want to squander this opportunity. If you’re going to give an ultimatum like “If you don’t have everything fixed in a week, I’m going to rip it all out and buy Brand X,” make sure you are prepared for the consequences.
Instead, be more flexible: If a feature was delayed and you could live without it for a while, ask for free software upgrades for the next year. If reliability is an issue, ask that the warranty be extended. If the company isn’t completing the project, offer to hire its competitor to finish the job and deduct the fees from the bill. In any case, document all efforts you made to help solve the problem.
Take Your Complaint to the Top
With your document in hand, and the supporting paperwork to back it up, go right to the top. Send your evidence to the dealer’s or integrator’s top person. If there’s a product manufacturer involved, go right to the president of the company. In most cases, you will be amazed by the results.
During my days at Vicon, it was not unusual for Ken Darby, the chairman and CEO, to personally make sure a customer was happy. David McDonald, president of Pelco, enjoys a sterling reputation in this regard as well.
When going to the top, you have three powerful bargaining chips: the job itself, future business and the company’s reputation. These companies all have a financial interest in your job, and withholding payment sometimes gets things moving. Future business is important and the thought of a competitor getting bragging rights to a project it lost will sober up a company very quickly.
The third chip, the company’s reputation, is the most powerful and, when used correctly, rarely fails. Most businesses realize a customer whose problems were ultimately fixed is a much better reference than one who has not experienced a problem. The latter can’t speak for what will happen when something goes wrong. The former went through the tough times, came out ahead and, if made happy, will sing praises to anyone who will listen.
And as Darby says, “A customer and a company’s reputation are the most important assets of any business.” Present a company with the opportunity to make you a positive reference and you’ve provided a “win-win” situation all around.
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