The deli near my office at the Brooklyn Creative League is fairly upscale and well-stocked. I (used to) pop in a couple of times a week for lunch. Yesterday, I pulled out a fancy-looking bagel from the bin. The bins have a $.75 price tag, which seemed like a good deal for a bagel with cheese and some cut up stuff melted on it.
The cashier rang it up for $1.75. My “uh, the sign said 75-cents” objection was steamrolled because only the “plain” bagels are seventy-five cents. Didn’t I know that? It turns out I did not. And while I wasn’t going to start a fight over a dollar, I didn’t leave happy. I felt like I had been hustled.
Back at the office, the bagel didn’t taste as fresh or yummy as I thought it might. And I remembered yesterday’s thai noodle salad might have been too tangy. And kinda chewy. And overly oily.
This afternoon I walked to the corner and couldn’t bring myself to go back in. In fact, I don’t think I ever will again. I asked around, and there are lots of other lunch options within a three-minute walk. The deli definitely won the battle — they have my extra dollar. But in the process they lost a cheap but regular customer, losing the war to their competition.
The cashier didn’t do anything wrong. Her job is to collect money. She was absolutely correct. But for me, something changed. It doesn’t feel right anymore. So I moved on.
This experience scares the bejesus out of me. How many customers have I let down by being right?
“Sorry, only one balloon per person.”
“No, I don’t make swords. I’m a nonviolent person”.
“Sorry, but I already made on of those today. No repeats.”
“No, I don’t have those agate balloons, they are too expensive.”
“Sorry, but I have to leave now. No balloon for you.”
It’s a slippery slope from being correct to being wrong-headed. You want to be fair to all, while still cultivating a relationship with each. When we are at our best we slide down the slope gracefully, handling objections with skill and making exceptions with discretion. When we are at our worst we win the battle, but lose the war.