The Thin Red Line

OK, so I end the day by sharing with the world a dirty little secret.  The other day my company went into temporary unauthorized overdraft. It was the first time in the company’s history that his had happened, and, as always, an “oversight”.  I was about to call the bank with the usual “sorry, I won’t do it again”. But I didn’t. I waited….and waited….and waited….for a call.

You see, I am the CEO of a start-up. And for once, times are sweet. Any day now, a rather large sum of money is about to hit the bank account….the result of  years of sweat and patience, working with investors to finance a rather large project at Amsterdam airport that will change the travel world forever….but that’s another story….

You see, I didn’t call because I wanted to test a reaction and this is the reason why:

Here I am, probably one of several hundred thousand CEOs and Managing Directors, watching for any potential red lines on their bank statements. On the other hand, the major banks are all about to publish their year end results, and with huge city bonuses being paid out, memories of huge government bail-outs this time last year are still rather fresh in the minds of business owners.  Why? Because the apparent government pressure on the banks to start lending more to business doesn’t seem to be working. But that’s another story too….

The call came! He introduced himself as Mr. so and so from “Collections” and he wanted to know about the red line. I explained the mistake, reminded him of the imminent arrival of a rather large sum of money, and of course, that it “wouldn’t happen again”. He blurted out some technical garbage suggesting he wasn’t paying a blind bit of attention to what I, the customer, was explaining, so I raised my voice with the words, “Listen, this if the first time in the company’s history. It is an oversight. And besides, why am I getting a call from “Collections” rather than my “Relationship Manager”, who by the way , I have never ever met during the entire history of my company”. I knew I had hit a nerve.

The best opportunity for any organization to establish and reinforce a relationship is during a momentary period of pain. It doesn’t need to happen often, and at the end, there may be no successful outcome. But sometimes, it’s not the outcome, but the moment itself that is memorable, and gives the customer a reason to maintain the relationship.

You’d think it was human nature…but some organizations do not possess that gene.  Great entrepreneurship is about spotting thin red line moments like this, and doing something about it.

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