I don’t do angry well.
However, God and/or the universe thinks it’s time I learned, as evidenced by the ample practice opportunities they’ve been throwing my way in the last couple of weeks.
First came a loved-one’s recent Festival of Stupidity. Then the whole Ted Haggard / Mark Driscoll thing that hit all my anger buttons despite having nothing to do with me personally. Lastly, I found a little emotional land-mine in the form of an email from my first-ever dissatisfied customer.
Now, reality says that if you’re in business, eventually, no matter how hard you try to please everyone, you will have dissatisfied, complaining customers. And judging by what my friends and acquaintences who are business owners have told me (and what I’ve seen at the various companies I’ve worked for) oddly enough, it’s usually the customers you tried the hardest to accomodate. In fact, the only thing that surprised my business-owning friends about this situation is that it took me two full years in business to have a “problem customer” appear.
In this particular case, I met with the customer twice before starting the project. They had printed out my company site, and obviously looked at my previous work. My prices were listed on my site, and I reiterated my pricing and gave them a quote on their project, all of which they said they were fine with. They didn’t have a logo, which most designers would have charged them extra for, but I went ahead and threw in a logo design for free, just ‘cuz I’m that kind of gal.
Went through the project, and it ended up being more work than I quoted, mainly because the logo took three revisions till they were satisfied with it, and they had no digital photography and almost no copy. I had to spend a few extra hours researching, editing, and Photoshopping to get them enough content to fill the sitemap they agreed upon.
At the end of the project, I billed them, and picked up the check in person. The customer didn’t seem at all dissatisfied with the project.
So then, a month later, I get an email telling me I overcharged them, and that “people in my industry” told them their site was worth less than half what they’d paid for it.
Now, a few days later, I can guess pretty accurately what happened. A combination of buyers remorse hitting and some idiot who owns a copy of FrontPage (and who probably thinks XML is the latest satellite radio station) popping off to my customer, and now they think they were “overcharged.”
I sent the customer an email, with a handy list of undisputable facts showing they weren’t overcharged, including the price lists for two of my competitors showing their exact same site would have cost nearly double from my closest-priced competitors.
However, I realize now that no amount of reason, facts, or logic will convince this client of anything, because for the most part, their belief that they were overcharged isn’t based in reason, facts or logic. It’s based, mostly, on the fact that they wished they hadn’t spent the money and the emotions spending that money brought up for them. Do I think some idiot told them what they both wanted and were afraid to hear? Yup. There’s always someone willing to do that.
As for myself, the whole thing was a positive, if painful, lesson from reality in the following:
- If I want to ever be a small business person again (and I might, who knows), I need to realize that no matter how hard I try to please everybody, it can’t be done.
- My emotional response to this person had to do with the concept of value, in the sense that I perceived it as an attack on my personal value and worth. What I heard, through my screwed-upness is “You’re not worth even half what you think and say you are. You’re either deluded or a liar if you say otherwise.”
- The value of my work is not determined by one person. The vast majority of the evidence from reality backs up that my work is worth what I charge for it.
- My value as a person is not determined or altered by any person. It is intrinsic, unchangeable, and incalculable. To the extent that I really believe that, the criticism of others (which comes from their own inner fears and worries almost as often as it comes from my mistakes) can’t hurt me.
- I’m really starting to get the hang of the purpose of anger. Anger lets you know someone has violated a boundary with you. I got angry at the Festival of Stupidity because my loved one violated a boundary in our relationship. I got angry at Mark Driscoll because his words violated a boundary of mine regarding placing responsibility for infidelity 100% on the person who cheated. And I got angry with my client because they violated the boundaries of our business agreement. What that person did was exactly the same as if I’d gotten a quote from my mechanic, agreed to it, told him to perform the service, paid him, and then a month later, not knowing anything at all about car repairs and mostly because I was feeling anxious about spending the money, told him his work wasn’t worth what he charged. In business, you make an agreement, and you stick to it, and if you have an issue with the other party, you take it up at the time of service, not a month later when you’re experiencing buyer’s remorse.
- The tougher part of this anger business is figuring out the appropriate, logical response to the boundary violation. Not the irrational, emotional response, which often amounts to shouting “Kiss my shiny white @$$!” at the violator.
Well, good luck to all my gentle readers in dealing with those sticky boundary violations in your own life. If you have any sparkling insights into the whole “appropriate response” thing, send them my way.