When we first started a bucket route we had a, well, let’s say “trying” client we later found out to be derogatorily nicknamed the “queen of the valley” by other wholesalers. She insisted we stop at her place first, not wanting others’ leftovers, but typically wasn’t at her shop when we arrived first thing in the morning, putting all our other appointments of the day into the late category. A forty-five minute wait wasn’t unusual and she always had a reason for her frantic, late arrival—traffic, a frustrating client of her own, or other, more creative excuses (though her yoga pants and glistening skin suggested that just maybe she had been at a workout). But she bought enough for us to take the abuse, making up nearly a third of our sales in the early years. Throughout those years, we chased her around as she switched storefronts, meeting her at the post office, at supermarket parking lots, at her horse pasture, at various venues, texted meeting times that weren’t met, responded quickly to messages but which then weren’t responded to, prepared for “big events” on the weekend that never occurred, dropped off orders to save her time, switched out buckets and washed them while she was elsewhere, and generally accepted her Tory-like outlook aimed at us, the peasantry. We held checks, re-deposited bounced ones, heard the “I left my checkbook home” excuse innumerable times, and some years bankrolled her through the winter with sizeable, outstanding balances we figured she’d eventually pay—and she always did. She even tried to bully us into not selling to nearby, small competitors—not succeeding with us, but doing so with a very large California supplier who refused to sell to others in the resort town. Eventually, we felt comfortable enough in the business to “fire” her after a particularly nasty exchange (or was it her that fired us?). Jeriann and I had bets on whether or not she’d come crawling back and I won, as after a couple years she sweetly called and asked us to resume stopping by —perhaps she got a better, bigger prescription, who knows? In any case, the stress level, once Jeriann understood she and not the client was the boss, plummeted, and life on the route became enjoyable in a way it had never been. The power to say “no” is immensely gratifying.
Once a slogan, “the customer is always right” approaches doctrine for much of the business world, ignoring not only the moral aspect of any relationship but also the precarious balance of power underlying material and social transactions. You might say those of us in capitalist countries have just turned Soviet-Era Russia on its head, so rather than customers lining up to be served poor quality goods in short supply from surly business owners, businesspeople line up to be treated shabbily by demanding clients. Between phone calls, ads on Facebook, in print, on television, on billboards, at the gas pump, and on every app, the lineup of people selling us things extends out into the street and around the block. The result: a pampered populace getting our jollies from choosing (a sickness of the mind, according to a Zen sage) and/or jacking others around.
As niche markets in the flower business get as “niche-y” as coffee shops (skinny latte, please, with a hint of nutmeg, hemp milk, medium foam, recyclable container) maybe there’ll be an a la carte menu on every delivery, charging for each complaint, pricing for every instance of passive-aggressive behavior, so that customers can really get the full adrenaline rush they’re truly after—after all, it’s one thing to beat up on a delivery person or business owner who has no recourse, quite another to face retaliation; charging would add a little sport to the exchange. Kind of like the difference between hunting bear with a bow and arrow afoot rather than on a four wheeler with a high-powered rifle. Until that future day, though, when the meter runs, piling up the cash as you’re taking abuse, you’ll be dealing with difficult clients with little reward other than exposing and exercising your character. You’ll find out just how patient you are (or aren’t), how easily you are stressed, how much tact you possess and also discover your tolerance levels—and likely, extend them. Every client relationship, you may decide, is a short-term marriage with frequent fantasies of divorce. And yet, like many in unhappy marriages, you’ll stay. It’s all about power.
But it’s not just the powerful client who exhibits trying behaviors. Frequently, very small customers, perhaps accustomed to dealing with big companies through a computer, whittle away at one’s patience with requests much too particular, sometimes haggling over price and quality (as if we didn’t know, after a couple decades in the business, the appropriateness of either), making deliveries difficult (we once had to drive to a florist’s second job at the courthouse, find her at her office, wait for her to finish her momentary task, go out to the parking lot and decide what she wanted, then deliver the flowers to her shop downtown), not paying promptly—well, you get the picture. As we grew older and wearier, we learned to fire such clients early in the relationship, profiling “pickers” (who had to touch every flower to make sure they got the best), stem counters, and complainers as likely chronic problems we had no time for. No doubt we missed out on some good relationships, but we lacked the energy to continue trying to connect where resistance seemed constant. As your business becomes more successful, you can weed out bad clients, and you’ll find the business growing even faster because you’re wasting less time and energy, becoming more efficient.
Many “creatives” seem to be difficult clients—disorganized, random, forgetful, and, let’s face it, self-centered (and not always in an attractive way). That focus on their projects takes away from their focus on the rest of us. Popular culture labels them as “left-brain”, excusing their behavior as innate (right-brain people get the alternative excuse of being naturally structured and methodical), but there are no excuses, no syndromes, that justify bad behavior.
These left-brainers are concerned with their projects, not yours. You’re just a step in the sequence that takes them from idea to finished product—you’re a “thing”, not a person, a cog in the machinery that takes their intention to fruition, and to succeed with them you need to make their job easy. Disappear, become that “thing” and eliminate your own personality, making yourself evident only as needed. Don’t nag or badger, don’t provide more information than is needed, agree not only when you agree but when you disagree.. Don’t make interaction “sticky” by adding steps, getting in the way, refining the transaction. You want events to progress smoothly, to not be an impediment.
Now for the other side of the relationship equation. Most of us recognize when others exhibit difficult behavior; interactions have the feel of driving too fast on a washboard road, our chassis chattering. We more rarely witness our own obnoxious peccadilloes—to our own detriment, since the only real, direct power we have in a relationship is upon our own behavior. But it’s so much easier to whine about others, to cajole and coax them, bully them, rather than work on our own shortcomings.
Do you make others wait, do you keep appointments, pay on time, meet agreements, answer calls promptly, confirm orders? Do you make excuses for being late, for not showing up, (you only have so many grandmothers’ funerals you need to attend, remember) or do you accept responsibility and rectify mistakes? Do you demand higher standards than typical to the realm you’re interacting in—are you upset, for instance, when every plant from the plug producer isn’t perfect, when some have been jarred loose, when some are dry, seem yellow and diseased, are rootbound? Do you blame the seed company when your seeds don’t germinate rather than considering your own culpability? Do you expect a lot of a salesman’s time in relation to that required by a normal client, a larger client? Do you think plants come on the shelves like packaged toys you can just pop into the store and buy anytime you want to, rather than requiring 12-14 weeks lead time so producers aren’t left with unmarketable products? Would the business you’re dealing with exist if all the customers were as demanding as you? If all of them took as much time? If all of them paid as slowly? If all had to be reminded at every turn?
Actions convey information that others use to judge us, but inaction carries information, too. Every day your bill goes unpaid suggests something to your creditor. Every moment without responding to a call or text indicates a lack of interest on your part. Every minute you’re late to a rendezvous means that, to that extent, you place yourself above the other—some may even perceive it as an insult, no matter what your intentions. You cannot assume others know how you feel, what you intend, what your past behavior has been; they can only use the information they have and assess you accordingly. And from there, decide if they want to continue dealing with you.
It doesn’t matter that your alarm didn’t go off, that you have a second job, that your child was sick, that you were stuck in traffic—what others see is that you’re not dependable, and what they garner from excuses (which would be well substituted, if not remedied, with apologies) is that you spin the truth or fail to recognize it, or maybe even feel comfortable lying, that you prefer to protect your self-image rather than accept your responsibility. If you deny reality, you make another’s job much more difficult—they have to assimilate the information that is real, and factual, plus integrate the reality you’re substituting, hoping as they do so that your imagination stays stable so they can incorporate the alternative spin into their own actions. Whew! Life is difficult as it is—don’t make it moreso.
Some people get ahead by being a trying, demanding person—if you take enough hostages and none of them try to escape, eventually somebody pays the ransom. But until you get powerful enough to benefit from such an attitude, you’ll likely lose connections and fail to forge relationships if you have less to offer than you’re asking for—demanding, rather than requesting,