My accountant, Eric, recently told me his son passed the bar to practice law in New Jersey. During our conversation, Eric told me how he had explained to his son this important difference between his own business and his son’s new business: Accountants often develop lifetime relationships with their clients. I, for example, belong to his firm’s 25-year club. Lawyers, on the other hand, typically form transactional relationships. I have purchased four homes and sold three homes. Each time I have worked with a different lawyer.
When I first purchased a home, I grew impatient with our attorney, who had a bust of Theodore Roosevelt featured prominently in his office. As an acolyte of T.R., I tried to engage our attorney in conversation about the great man. Each time I offered what I considered to be a particularly thoughtful observation, but our attorney failed to return my serve.
Upon reflection, I now realize our attorney may have had zero interest in T.R. The bust may have been little more than a decorative item. I also now realize our attorney may have seen me as being what I was: a non-recurring $450 fee. Knowing I wouldn’t engage his services a second time, he saw no reason to fill otherwise billable hours with pointless prattle about the 26th president of the United States.
I tend to form lasting relationships with my vendors. Each morning I purchase bread from the same bakery. Whenever possible, I fill my tank with gasoline at the same station. I have been purchasing fettuccine and ravioli from the same store for the past 55 years. What’s more, the same man has been passing goods across the counter to me during all these years.
I realize it is possible that I take all of this a little too far. Since I retain key relationships each time I sell a home, I spend more time than may be necessary driving from here to there. Happily, I enjoy driving my car. We, too, have something resembling a relationship.
Over the past 25 years, I have remained loyal to what I consider to be “my” wine store. Not only am I loyal to this store, I am also loyal to one particular brand of red wine. The wine is named, appropriately, Friends. It has lately occurred to me, though, that ownership of the wine store may not be equally committed to our relationship.
The last few times I have driven from my present home on Manhattan Island to “my” wine store in Bergen County, N.J., the clerk has not been able to fill a case of Friends.
I consider this to be an instance of poor relationship management. I, who have been a loyal customer for 25 years, cross the George Washington Bridge with its $15 toll to predictably purchase a dozen bottles of the same brand of red wine. Ownership knows it can count on my patronage, even though I am no longer local. As a member in good standing of the 25-year club, I take my membership seriously.
If I were ownership, I would make sure there is always one case of this wine available during my next visit. When you are one-half of a relationship, it is never a good idea for the other party to feel his or her good intentions and efforts are not being reciprocated. The neglected party will feel taken for granted, which can cause him or her to seek a more satisfying relationship elsewhere.
Relationships, like many other things, should not be broken. Even though you may say and do things that appear to cement the cracks, those cracks will remain. Your good efforts notwithstanding, your relationship will have been compromised. Your other half is officially in play.
Relationships are not unlike a favorite houseplant. Water and feed the plant from time to time and it will give you pleasure for many years. However, a neglected plant will wither. No amount of well-intentioned effort will return it to good health.
When you twin the two words “relationship” and “management,” you understand there is an underlying dynamic process. Relationship management requires your active participation. You recognize there are a “give” and a “take.” You must remain mindful and present when managing a relationship. There is no sleeping at the wheel. Relationships either grow or decline over time. They are not static.
Relationships, as the saying goes, require work. A productive, healthy relationship, though, is well worth the effort.