You know that feeling when you could not do the simplest thing in the world like putting the correct address? Well, guess what, we had three returns this week, all due to the same mistake: wrong address. The worst thing was, of course, it was all my fault.
I didn’t normally do this. It was not in my nature to make mistakes.
They used to call me ‘the machine’ back in Dog Swamp Distribution. I was so good even my supervisor started to doubt himself.
There was something wrong somewhere. I knew I needed to fix it. We could not afford customers missing their goods all the time because of my stupid mistakes.
“Hello?” I answered the phone.
“Hi, is this Fred’s Industrial Supplies?” the voice from the other end said.
“Yes, hi John,” I replied, recognising the voice straight away.
“Fred, how have you been?” he said.
John didn’t normally say “how have you been”, so something was wrong (again), must be my lucky day.
“Look, we have just decided,” John said.
“Decided .. yes?” I said nervously.
“O look, I feel bad, honestly, but we have decided to use another supplier,” John finally said. “I felt like I had to tell you directly.”
My senses were frozen. I wanted to say something but all I could gather in my head was silence. It was cold, dark, and just silent. I felt nauseous. I felt sick.
John was my biggest customer. His company contributed about 30% of our revenue. His departure was a major shock to me. Well, to be honest, it was not like he didn’t give us any warning. He had been telling us how we should review our pricing. I didn’t think it was that serious. I guess I was wrong. But I couldn’t be wrong, I knew what our competitors were selling at and we matched them, we matched everything.
“John, are you serious?” I said. “Can we talk about it?”
“We have talked about it, Fred,” John said. “You just didn’t listen.”
I was disappointed and angry. That was the moment when I decided that I couldn’t rely on my existing customers. I had to do something. These ungrateful people just kept disappointing me. I gave them the best services ever, the best prices, and the best of everything. And still, they went behind my back and left for useless competitors.
I kept myself composed and said my final words to John.
“Alright John, I get it. Well, let me know if you change your mind then.”
I made a commitment to myself that I would work harder than ever to get better customers. I would not let this incident destroy me. It was time for me to shine. At least that was what I had in mind.
I spent the following months trying everything I could think of to promote our products. I did land new customers. Some of them were pretty good customers too. I knew I could do it. There was nothing stopping me now.
But still, none of them was as good as John. These customers were ‘smallish’. They were like insects, while John was like a whale.
I tried harder. I went around door knocking. I called up potential customers for meetings. I mailed hundreds of sales materials. I faxed promos to everyone I knew would be interested. I did everything I could think of. I landed few more customers, but they were all ‘smallish’. All of them combined were still nothing compared to John’s purchases.
And in the meantime since John’s departure, we sank deeper into financial trouble. Losing 30% of revenue was not an easy matter. I cut cost everywhere I could think of. We even started to turn off the air conditioning during the day to save electricity. We let go everyone except Sam our loyal delivery driver. He agreed to take a pay cut to help us a little bit.
We were desperate. We were on the brink of bankruptcy.
There were times when I didn’t want to go to sleep because I knew I would wake up in the morning to face my nightmare all over again.
I would drive to work contemplating whether I should keep driving or going back home.
“Fred, this is Sam,” Sam my driver called me.
“Yes, Sam?” I said.
“I’m so sorry, I know you don’t want to hear this,” he said.
“What is it?” I said. My heart started to beat faster.
“I have been in an accident,” Sam replied. “I am ok but the van was damaged, badly.”
I felt the cold again, this time I could feel it creeping into my bones. I felt like a dark cloud was hovering around me. I could not say anything. I was just staring at the traffic.
“Fred, I am so sorry,” Sam said. “I will help to pay for the damages. I know things haven’t been easy for you.”
I didn’t say anything. Sam hung up the phone. It wasn’t his fault but he felt guilty nevertheless. He did end up paying for the insurance excess though. He resigned immediately afterwards.
We were out of whack for few weeks while the van was fixed. I ended up using our family car for delivery. We were lucky because we had a big family car. So we managed to fit quite a good volume of items into it.
My wife joined forces to mind the phone while I went around doing deliveries. She was very good with the phone. It was in her nature to build conversations. I had to say, I never knew she was that good.
Due to my activities with delivery, I got to meet with a lot of our existing customers. I didn’t use to talk to them because I was too busy trying to get new customers. This gave me refreshed perspectives.
My customers never said it but I could see they appreciated my efforts to stay afloat. Some of them even offered me cold drinks on hot days. I began to build great relationships with them. I never knew they were such a good bunch of people. I always thought of them as ‘smallish’ customers that I couldn’t care less. Boy, I was wrong. I was so wrong.
I guess there were a lot of things I didn’t know about them.
I began to really care for them, walking the extra miles when they needed help. There were times when I would do express delivery within the hour if I knew they needed the goods urgently. Some other time I would drop my prices heavily because I knew they also had difficulties with their own businesses. I thought it was important if we could weather the storm together.
My customers started to support me more. They gave me more business and they referred me to their friends. I could not thank them enough for their generosity.
John never came back to us, but we survived.
I looked at myself differently now. I thought I was so good that I could never make mistakes. Well, I did, a lot of them. I just didn’t realise it. I thought I was above my customers. In reality, I was beneath them. They were the ones who supported me during tough times.
They were the ones who gave me a second chance.
When that phone rang a few months ago, I was devastated. I couldn’t believe how unlucky I was. I was wrong. It turned out to be the luckiest day of my life. It was the day my life was about to change. What I thought was the lowest point in my life turned out to be the highest point.
I went through hell to see heaven.
But it was worth it.
I was blind, but now I see.