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What’s The Opposite Value to Success? Why Your Worst Customer is Your Best.

Psychologists like to play word association games. A popular one is when they ask you to identify a word that is the opposite of the word just mentioned. So, quickly, what comes to mind when I say Success?  Huh? What’s that? You say it is failure?

Sounds plausible, but I would argue it’s complacency.

Yup, you heard it. To get to success you must take action. The result of inaction, or complacency, denies success. Think about it, failure isn’t always connected to ‘success’ in a negative way, is it? Really? Consider that it’s failure that led to the successes of our current, technological society! Think of Henry Ford or Thomas Edison and ask yourself how many times they failed? If they hadn’t failed we wouldn’t be enjoying the business climate that exists today.

So, that leaves complacency as I define it: the lack of change, or not trying to better oneself, or not moving towards a goal. That attitude will never lead to success and is the polar opposite toward growth.

Leaders recognize this, write about it in intelligent blogs and white papers, and some take action to deny complacency. One CEO in the UK is famous for having club seating tickets to the national football games only to give all his tickets away to his clients. Then, his challenge is to try to get back into the club seating without the tickets. He actually bets his clients that he will be having cocktails with them within the hour. Apparently he succeeds since I am writing about it. And, while I am not sure how well that would go over in the US stadiums, OK; whatever it takes to keep you fresh and hungry is a good thing.

So, yes, I agree that there are many ways to ensure you do not become complacent by challenging yourself as an individual, as in Kevin Eikenberry’s blog. All good practices, but I found one way that happens at work and is often misunderstood, even overlooked.

That way is through your toughest customer.

I enjoy being that tough customer at times, especially in a recent dealing with incompetence from an otherwise reputable professional service firm. It is this experience that reminded me of the value of a tough customer.  How well was I treated? These folks failed to alert me to a massive change in my contract; they asked me to notarize a document filled with signatures, but where there was no place for MY signature; and they sent me volumes of documents stating: “Please process”, with no other instructions in the email.

This kind of customer service isn’t inspiring and I felt it my duty to point out their lack of training, technical skills, knowledge and communication skills. If this firm was intelligent they would take my complaints one by one and delve deeper into the facts, rather than do what they did do, which was to dismiss me.

That behavior is the very definition of complacency.

In contrast, a hundred years ago, or so it seems like that now, I was blessed with a client – a really tough, difficult, demanding, awful client. He became a boon to my weekly existence until I woke up one morning and ‘got it’. He alone caused us to:

a) Work overtime killing all our profit

b) Meet him at a moment’s notice leaving me to flounder unprepared

c) Over deliver our work product after repeated rejection of our submissions.

And the list could go on!

I think often back on that experience; often, I do while thanking him. It took me a few projects to understand the ‘gifts’ this client gave to me. I invite you to consider how he ‘took me to school’ and therefore, how much he contributed tremendously to my ultimate success.

I learned:

a)      How to utilize my staff and resources, to plan like I was “leadership under fire” – because I was

b)      How to expect the unexpected and to always be prepared  for anything, most importantly by having the project remain on schedule

c)       How to institute quality into our work product early on and to never let up with oversight

Most importantly, this client, who remains a dear, close friend, taught me and my firm a whole lot more about how to do business well by not allowing complacency to sneak into our daily operations. He also taught me the value of forming authentic relationships. He taught me how to create long term, repeat and truly loyal clients; ones that will fill your funnel for years to come.

Do you have such difficult clients? If so, rather than curse them maybe you should listen to them so you can thank them later.

Complacency is the ‘hobgoblin’ of little companies. Don’t succumb to its deathly, long arm reach, robbing you of your deserved success.


Question: What stories can you share about your difficult clients?



  1. Kat McCall Reply
    Usually when clients are unhappy there is a reason for it, whether it is "fair" or not from our view. That said, some clients are just not worth the trouble if they prove to remain continuously challenging over time. I'm a firm believer that people come into our lives for a reason - good and bad clients alike - and we can always learn from the experience.

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