A business has many assets, but arguably one of its most valuable (though intangible) is its reputation. In fact Roman philosopher Pubilius said “A good reputation is more valuable than money”. Well, to be fair he said “Honesta fama melior pecunia est” but I figured most of us are a bit rusty on our Latin these days.
The fact is, no matter what industry you work in, a good reputation is invaluable in helping retain customers, gain new ones and generally be well respected within your community (however you choose to define that). The problem is that, as Warren Buffet once said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it”.
Getting a bad reputation is easy, shaking it off is darn hard. Look at Perrier, they never really recovered from the benzene scandal of 1990 which cost them their market share. Of course, benzene was only part of the problem, how they handled the issue is what really cost them when it came to public perception and trust.
With all that in mind, why am I saying I won’t pay £200 to protect my reputation? Surely, if it’s the most important asset I have, I should do everything within my power to keep it sparkling and whole?
As far as I’m concerned my reputation is based on many things. I am judged and remembered for the quality of the work I do, the way I treat my competitors, my clients, my staff and for how I handle myself. I am known for being sociable, bubbly (OK, a little on the loud side) but I am honest. My integrity is a huge part of my reputation, and that is something I will go a long way to protect.
I’d love to say my refusal to play games or screw people over comes from a deep seated desire to be “good”. It isn’t. I just don’t understand games and trying to pull people under. It’s not something I can respect in other people, and it will always tarnish my opinion of them. In fact, I have ceased working with clients and suppliers in the not too distant past because of their questionable ethics and back stabbing.
It is important to me that this element of my reputation remains intact, because it is a fundamental part of who I am. It’s a deal-breaker as far as I am concerned. You can say I don’t always get it right, I don’t. I’m human. I’m a sleep-deprived pregnant Mum of four. I hold my hands up, I am fallible. I have been known to forget a meeting is taking place, or suddenly remember a deadline 20 minutes before it’s due. I don’t make a habit of it, but it happens, and I don’t hide from it.
So, when a client gets in touch with me after nearly a month of silence and simply tells me that he’s not happy and wants £200 or he will bad mouth me, I don’t react well. I don’t react well because that’s not a complaint; that’s a demand.
It’s a demand for £200, “or else”.
This particular client has been difficult from the start, and to be honest, had it not been for the fact that we were introduced by a mutual friend, I would have declined to work with him. He has been confused in his brief, stating one thing in an email, another in a text and something entirely different in a face-to-face meeting. Looking back, I should have walked away – but you lives, you learns.
Conscious of his limited funds, I agreed to do the work at a 50% discount. I won’t go in to sums, but that resulted in a three figure reduction in the bill. Despite that, I still gave 100% because I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s not always about the money and the bank balance, at least not with me. I did the work, I turned it around quicker than agreed, and on top of the discount he received three additional meetings that I did not charge for.
A month ago I received a stream of rambling, incoherent text messages requesting various documents be re-sent, despite the fact they had already been sent on multiple occasions. The problem wasn’t that he didn’t have them, but simply that he did not know how to open and edit them on his mobile! At the time I was unable to respond due to other commitments, and simply replied requesting that he make it clear what he actually wanted via email so that I could handle it.
No email was ever forthcoming.
Then a month later, a demand for £200, or else.
The only problem this man actually has is that he doesn’t know how to operate a computer properly and is therefore struggling to access the information that has been sent to him. I have tried to help, but alas, it’s clearly not worked. While his demand for a £200 refund might well cover the cost of IT tuition, it’s not for me to pay for it. If you buy a car despite not having a license, you can’t months later demand a refund because you can’t drive the bloody thing!
He continues to threaten me with bad reviews, and bad mouthing me around town but to be honest, I don’t care. There is nothing I can do about a bad review. When someone feels hard done by, rightly or wrongly, there’s not a lot you can do to keep them quiet. He has a right to express his opinions, no matter how ill-judged they are. I won’t stop him. Freedom of speech and all that. I would rather he get it off his chest and allow me the opportunity to rebuke his claims, than pay him hush-money.
In my opinion, paying him £200 to be quiet suggests I have something to worry about. I don’t, any more than he actually has a genuine complaint about the service he has received.
Time will tell whether my reputation will be destroyed by the rantings of one individual, but come what may, I can look myself in the eye – and that means more than £200.