Some years ago, when I was playing at being a businessman, I bought an expensive pair of Florsheim shoes. Fancy shoes were part of the uniform of the team I was trying to get on. I wore the shoes for a day and then the heel fell off. It was irritating and I took them back to the store with a glower. I was polite and restrained but this second trip was cutting into a busy day and my anger must have shown through. I was young, after all.
The storeowner replaced the shoes immediately and gave me a couple of pairs of ‘lifetime’ socks (and shoe polish, I think). At first I refused the gesture saying that it was not necessary. I had just come in for shoes and shoes were all I wanted.
“Please, sir. We wanted to make a good first impression and we failed. So, I really want to make a much better second impression. I want you to remember this visit and not the first. If I can do that, you’ll come back.”
I accepted (he was very sincere) and, of course, I went back for as long as I was in the game. Which, thank God, was mercifully short.
But I never forgot the lesson…………………..or did I?
A few years go I had a disappointing encounter with Superior Propane. I had signed on due to their telemarketing campaign and then, because I lived where I lived, they withdrew the offer. They made a half-hearted attempt at a consolation and I use them to this day but, for me, the relationship has always been a bit strained. They, of course, have many, many customers and, to them, I am just one of many account numbers in their computer.
And like many other ‘numbers’ in any of these machines encounter now and then, my last bill from them was an error. They had overbilled me $25,000. Mind you, in retrospect, that is the best kind of error. Overbilling me only a few dollars might have gone unnoticed.
I had no choice. I wrote to them and told them of their error and, further, I added a few other complaints to the list. I was polite but pointed. I must have managed to glower by way of e-mail. It is an art.
They replied quickly, apologized profusely and told me the billing problem had been rectified. But then they went the additional step of addressing my other whiny complaints. I didn’t expect that. And I confess, I had brought up my disappointment from 6 years ago in my earlier complaint. They wanted to pursue that.
My response: “That you would ask me about it is good enough. Fuggedabout it. It was years ago. The employees involved have likely gone. The world moves on. And so do I. We’ll let it go.”
Superior replied with: “No sir. We want to make it better. We screwed up and we want a good relationship, not a poor one. We’ll do the right thing by you this time!”
And they did.
Sometimes a faux pas can be an opportunity. Sometimes it is just another screw-up in a world of screwing up. But the good part is that a screw-up fixed with grace and sincerity is remembered. I still remember the shoe store manager thirty-five years later. But now his file in my memory drawer just got a little bigger. I had to shuffle him over to make room for Superior Propane.
Let’s hope I get to remember them for 35 years!