Forewarned, Forearmed, Forefront
My seventh grade teacher, Miss Creveling, was the undisputed queen of the everyday adage (or cliché, depending on your point of view): “A word to the wise is sufficient,” “don’t be penny wise and pound foolish,” “a stitch in time saves nine,” and on it went.
Unfortunately, most of her aphorisms fell on deaf ears (Oops! There’s another one). That first “word” of warning never seemed to do the trick for a not-wise-enough preteen, and unaware of the idiosyncrasies of British currency, I could see no apparent relationship between a penny’s worth of wisdom and a unit of (foolish?) weight.
As the years passed, however, most of these phrases started to make sense and their useful application made it clear why they had achieved axiomatic status. This was especially true for one of her all-time favorites: “forewarned is forearmed” (or if you prefer the version later included in a 10th grade Latin list of ancient Roman idioms, “praemonitus, praemunitus”).
In grade school, I thought “forearmed” had something vaguely to do with the bone between my wrist and my elbow and maybe meant that I should keep my elbows off my desk, but once I figured it out (the Latin didn’t help) and saw how many times in life it rang true, I gained a real appreciation of what my teacher was trying to convey.
That little proverb can play a critical part in numerous business applications, perhaps most importantly in customer service, satisfaction, and retention―and can save both “forewarner” and “forewarned” lots of headaches along the way.
Out of the Sand
Mistakes inevitably happen in any business, especially where a tangible end-product is manufactured, but what you do when things go awry can make all the difference in a business (or personal) relationship.
One of the biggest missteps anyone can take in business is trying to hide bad news from the boss. It is far better to tell him upfront about a mistake or error than to have him hear it later on from someone on the outside. The same is true when dealing with the customer, a business owner’s ultimate boss.
The worst thing you can do when faced with an error is take the approach that the customer may not notice so let’s not say anything―Miss Creveling would have warned, “don’t bury your head in the sand.” The customer will notice. Or one of his business associates will; or worse, his boss; or even worse, his competitors; or worst of all, one of his customers will notice and make sure he finds out. At that point the mistake will be compounded by becoming not just an error, but an embarrassment. And no one wants to be blindsided.
The far better strategy is to tell the customer about the mistake as soon as it is discovered and then do everything possible to correct it. Let’s say that the trimming on a saddle-stitched brochure is a hair offline so that a thin strip of white appears on the edge of what was supposed to be a full bleed cover. If that job is delivered and the customer notices, he will be angry. If he doesn’t see it before it is mailed and one of his customers calls to tell him, he will be angry, embarrassed, and stop trusting you.
If, on the other hand, your production people call the mistake to your attention as soon as they see it and you contact the customer with an offer to ship the job “as is” at a discount, or rerun the job at no cost but at a delay of a few days (in either case, accompanied by an effusive apology, of course), you remove the embarrassment and probably even defuse the anger. You are forewarning the customer of the mistake and forearming him with a choice of “Plan B” solutions.
Again, if you promised a job by Friday, but a Thursday breakdown of a folder means it can’t be delivered until Monday, you could just ship it when it’s completed on Saturday and hope that the customer left early for the weekend and won’t know what happened―unless the customer receives a text message from his boss Sunday morning that the important program for the Sunday meeting is nowhere to be found.
Or, you could call the customer the minute you discover the folder can’t be fixed that day and let him know the problem, tell him you will be calling some other companies in the area to see if they can complete the job for you by Friday, and ask if he needs only a specific number of copies by Friday and can accept the rest of the shipment later. You find out that he needs just 100 for a Sunday meeting while the bulk of the order can get there anytime next week, so you tell him that, worst case scenario, you will hand-fold the 100 copies and ship them to his office Friday afternoon or complete the job on Saturday and drop the copies off at the meeting site Saturday afternoon.
By forewarning him, you not only forearmed him with the information about the shipment he can pass on to his boss, providing him with safe cover, but also put yourself in the forefront of suppliers by showing how your company will go above and beyond to meet his most important needs despite conditions beyond your control.
The forewarning begins with you. Make sure that your employees inform you whenever something goes wrong or even looks like it might go wrong, assure them that you would rather know so that you can start formulating a Plan B, and that keeping something from you is far worse than keeping you in the loop.
And apply that same principle to your customers. Don’t bury your head in the sand and do provide the word that will be sufficient to the wise; let them know you will work to make the corrective stitch that will save nine, and don’t try to save a few pennies by keeping the bad news to yourself and thus lose multiple pounds worth of future business. In short, forewarn your customers, forearm them, and keep your business in the forefront.