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"Learn to Learn"

by Dave Balch, "The Stay-at-Home CEO"™

(c) 2001, A Few Good People, Inc.

Marlon was a wonderful farrier.  He came every 6 weeks or so to trim the horses’ feet and make special shoes for one of them.  A good farrier is critical to a horse’s overall health because foot disorders can disable a horse to the point that he may have to be destroyed.  After all, when there is over 1,000 pounds to support, everything has to be in good working order.

We weren’t the only ones who loved Marlon.  He had a loyal following of regular customers and was busy all the time.  Not only did he do a terrific job, he was personable and fun to have around. 

When he decided to retire, he trained Trish, his daughter, to take over his business.  She was also fun and personable, so there was a smooth transition.  Unfortunately, we started having trouble as soon as she took over.  It started with snow pads, which are rubber inserts that go between the hoof and shoe and which are supposed to prevent snow from building up in the shoe.  The snow was building up in spite of the snow pads, and our horse was walking on chunks of ice the size of tennis balls.  A farrier problem.  In the spring, we noticed both of the horses were tripping on the trail for no apparent reason.  Our vet said that their feet were not trimmed properly, which was not only causing them to trip but which was also stressing some of the bones and muscles in their legs.  Another farrier problem.

We tried to get her to find out what needed to be done, but she got defensive and was difficult to deal with.  After about six months of problems, it became too much; we had to find another farrier.  When we told her we were switching, she got snotty.

 “Don’t you want to know why?” we asked her. 

“No”, she said bluntly, and hung up.

We know that many of Marlon’s other customers also switched.  Trish has ruined her father’s business of over 30 years, which is a tragedy.  But another tragedy is that Trish bought the business from him and is making payments.  They are both going to lose.

There are two lessons here having to do with learning.  The first one is this:  if you are delivering a flawed or otherwise inferior product, you must learn how to fix it!  What do you think will happen if you do a poor job and don’t even try to make it right?  If she had shown a willingness to “do whatever it takes” to fix the problems she was causing, we would have been more patient.

The other lesson is this:  if you lose a customer it is imperative that you find out why and learn from the situation.  If it’s because of something that you did, you may be able to fix it and save the customer, but even if you can’t save this one, you may be able to prevent losing anyone else.

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