Referrals: They Can Make You or Break You
I’ve been having a very annoying weak dealing with small business owners whose lack of efficiency has left me more astounded than ever.
The first astonishment came from a mechanic who I’d been going to for about one year. In terms of his knowledge about cars, he definitely had it, but his time management skills have always been atrocious. I put up with it for one year because he was cheaper than most, I could tell he had the knowledge and I extended my patience beyond what a normal person would, but as of last week, I finally had enough and have decided to search for a different, more efficient mechanic.
IMy breaking point happened last week when I dropped my car off with him at exactly 10:00 am in the morning (since this is when he told me he’d be free). I then asked how long it would take to have everything ready. He said two hours. So, knowing his time management issues, I gave him a few more hours and at 4:00 p.m. I called to find out if the car was ready. No, it wasn’t he responded. I asked how much longer it would take. He said he’d by done by 6:00 p.m. At 6:45 p.m. I called again and the car wasn’t ready. At this point (annoyed) I moved on. He then calls at 10:45 p.m. — a full 12 hours later!! to tell me the car was ready. This is when I reached my boiling point. I paid him, got the car and my business relationship with him has now ended.
Prior to this incident, I had foolishly given his number to a friend who needed his car repaired and the same thing happened to my friend. The mechanic said he’d come by at 10:00 a.m. and showed up at my friends house at 10:45 p.m. He fixed my friends car, but that referral, which I’d given the mechanic is now over. So, in conclusion, because of this mechanics total time inefficiencies, he has now lost me as a customer and he has lost my friend (who by the way owns a cab company on the side and would have provided good business for the mechanic had he done a timely and good job).
Also, I have another friend who owns a medical transportation company and he too was looking for a mechanic, but lucky for my friend, he called me after I decided to move on from this guy and I guess you can say that this was yet another referral that I could have given to the mechanic, but didn’t.
The second incident involved yet another small businessman. I needed some handy work done around the house. I called him up, he said he could do the job and in fact did it and finished it on time, but there was just one small problem — He left all his trash and woodwork on my porch and didn’t clear it up. Did he expect me to clear up his garbage after I paid him? Not good. Not good. Sloppy and irresponsible.
Needless to say, I won’t be recommending this guy to anyone I know. Another lost referral for him.
So, I was thinking about these two small business people (who really need the money) and was wondering if they were simply stupid, lazy or crazy? And by the way, these were not guys in their twenties with few responsibilities or worries. They were both in their forties and they both had families to take care for, kids to support, rent to pay and in one case even a mortgage! In other words, they needed the money.
Were they this short sighted? In the case of my mechanic, even though I stuck with him for a year (& he probably thought I was an easy sucker, he still screwed up the one referral I sent over to him and thus, destroyed a potential income source).
In the case of the carpenter, does he not realize that his sloppiness will cost him business? What shocked me even more was this was the first time I’d used him and you’d think with a new customer, you’d want to do a good job so you could get more business, but this foresight seemed to be totally lacking on his part.
Every business owner I’ve talked to who has been in business for 30 years or more has told me that they built their businesses almost entirely on referrals. They started with one customer, did a good job and that one customer brought them two more customers and so on and so forth. A slow, methodical building based on years of consistent hard work. Emphasis on the word consistent.
So, I’m curious to hear from small business owners out there who might be reading this piece and I suppose this post could also serve as a warning to other small business owners. When you screw up one customer what you are really doing is totally jeopardizing your ability to build up your business because that one customer probably had 10 potential referrals they could have given you had you not screwed them up.
The other Kenyan business blogs like to focus on stock prices and AGM meetings and all of that big talk, but without customers your business can’t exist. So, let’s talk about that because it is the pulse of every business.