From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

How to Keep Clients . . . Even When It Hurts

Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

T.S. Eliot

There is nothing more important to the success of a business than satisfied clients. Satisfied clients stay with you and refer their friends to you. Plus, keeping an existing client costs you a fraction of what it takes to bring in a new client to replace a dissatisfied one that has left. The single biggest reason clients leave is broken promises. The single most important rule for keeping your clients is: “When you make a promise, either stated or implied, do your best to keep it, regardless of the cost.”

I was home in Columbus, Ohio, sound asleep. It was 2 A.M., and I was awakened by a phone call: one of my clients. I was scheduled to give a presentation in Marco Island, Florida, later that same morning at 9 A.M., and I was supposed to have arrived the night before. Panic set in. For some reason, I thought the program was in two days. How did this happen? It didn’t matter. The immediate problem was a speech that had to be done in seven hours, and I was a thousand miles away with no conceivable way to get there.

I frantically started looking through the Yellow Pages for charter planes. I called six or seven, but no one was answering at two in the morning. Finally one did. It was an air ambulance service. The guy asked me what the emergency was. I told him that if I wasn’t in Marco Island by 7 A.M. that morning, my client was going to kill me. I asked if they could do it. He responded by asking me if I had an American Express card. As I quoted my Corporate Card number over the phone, he assured me there was no problem. Their Lear jet ambulance would have me there by 7 A.M.

I called the client back and told him that I had chartered, at my own expense, a Lear jet and would be there by 7 A.M. I heard a sigh of relief as he told me he would have a driver waiting for me at the Marco Island airport. At about 3 A.M., I rushed to the office to get my stuff, grabbed a two-liter bottle of diet soda, and ran off to await the arrival of my air ambulance. While I waited, I drank the two-liter bottle of soda.

About 40 minutes into the flight, the two liters of diet soda were ready to make an exit. I then discovered this Lear jet came with just about everything, including a registered nurse named Sandy. The only thing it didn’t come with was a bathroom . . . and there was no way I could wait another 90 minutes. There were no bedpans, bottles or containers to help me out. Not to worry. Sandy’s got the solution: catheterization. No way! I then asked the pilots what they did on long trips. One of them reached into his leather case, pulled out a plastic sandwich bag with one of those press-and-close tops, emptied out the carrot sticks and handed it to me while giving me a piece of very important advice. “When you seal it, make sure the yellow and blue stripes at the tip turn green.”

The plane landed a little before eight. Just before I “de-Leared,” the pilot asked me how long I was going to be. The speech was 45 minutes, with a book-signing afterward. I figured I’d be done about noon. “Great,” he responded. “We’ll wait.” How about that? The return trip was free.

The limo got me to the hotel in plenty of time to clean up and prepare. I then gave one of the best presentations of my life. Everything clicked perfectly. Pure adrenaline.

The client was very impressed and appreciative that I was able to honor my commitment and that I was willing to do so, regardless of the cost. Oh yes . . . the cost. It was $7,000. Then to pour a little salt in the wound, they tacked on a 10-percent excise tax because it was a passenger ticket. Had I let Sandy catheterize me, I would have been a medical passenger and saved $700! And on top of that, there were no frequent flyer miles.

It was an adventure I won’t soon forget, especially the bill. But the client was ecstatic, and I’ve received a lot of spin-off work and great word-of-mouth exposure—not to mention a great personal example to share in my speeches. Keeping the client’s needs first always pays . . . even when it costs.

Jeff Slutsky

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