“What happened?” I asked Parker as he ran in from the backyard crying.
“I fell on the rocks,” he said.
“Well, maybe we’ll finally get rid of them,” I said, trying to comfort him.
When we moved into our house about seven years ago, the backyard was a total mess. The third of it closest to the house had been cleared, but the rest was a wilderness of small trees, bushes, garbage and rocks — lots and lots of rocks. During our first few years there, I spent just about every waking moment trying to clean and clear the rest of the yard. I’d fill bucket after bucket with broken bottles, broken up pieces of driveway and broken bricks. I’d use my electric chainsaw to take down at least 15 small trees and I’d use my muscle power to continually move rock after rock towards the back fence.
Though some days it seemed like I’d accomplished nothing, after a few years, the yard was largely cleared, leaving us with a decently attractive rock wall up against our neighbor’s fence. And so all seemed right with the world, but as the kids have grown up, so have our neighbor’s children on the other side of that fence. My older one and our neighbor Bill’s son are in the same class and all four of the kids (my two boys and Bill’s boy/girl twins) play together all the time. Sometimes there are real jump-over-the-fence playdates but many times they just play through (or over) it. And it is during these fence playdates that the rocks have become a problem, with balls getting stuck and ankles getting sprained.
And so after getting over my reluctance to spend what I expect will be a significant sum, I reached out to my trusty landscaper (and general master of anything I need done) Marcos. Not surprisingly, when I described the project to Marcos and asked if it was something he could help with, he responded with the usual: “Yes. That is something we can do for you.”
Gotta love Marcos.
But after assuring me he’d call later in the week to set up an on-site review of the situation — and give me an estimate — I didn’t hear from him. After giving him a week’s grace period, I reached out with a gentle text. Nothing.
Then a week later, I called. Nothing. And then a week later I called again. Nothing. And then I left a, “Hey Marcos, are you still in business?” message. Nothing.
And so after about a month, as I watched the leaves falling on my lawn and wondering who was going to get them off, I did the unthinkable. I started asking my friends and neighbors for landscaper references. But I did it all reluctantly, secretly hoping Marcos would resurface with an explanation for his absence.
And wouldn’t you know it, the day after I’d made first contact with a new potential landscaper, my phone rings at about 9 PM. And who do you think it was? Yup — my old friend Marcos.
“Hi Mr. Guerra.”
“Hey Marcos – where the heck have you been?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t reach out earlier. I had two people quit on me at the same time a few weeks ago and I really fell behind on my calls.”
“Well, I wish you’d have called me. I actually just reached out to another landscaper. I thought you were out of business or something,” I said.
“Oh, no,” he said, after which followed an awkward moment of silence.
“Well, I guess I still need my leaves done,” I relented.
“Yes. We can do that,” he said.
“And I guess I still want to talk about the rocks,” I admitted.
“Yes. We can do that,” he said.
And so I got off the phone with the bizarre feeling that I’d just taken back a prodigal girlfriend or something — it had that dynamic of, “Well, you screwed up, but I like you and you seem sorry. We sure did have fun when we were together and I really don’t want to go back on the dating scene.”
And though bizarre, there are lessons in here for all leaders. First off, when you get swamped, when you get bombarded, and when you fall behind — COMMUNICATE honestly with your employees and customers. Tell everyone what’s going on, how it’s going to affect service, and when they can expect the situation to be restored. You’d be amazed at how much folks can tolerate IF THEY KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON. And secondly, treat people the right way when you are running on all cylinders. When you operate with a high level of service, you build up a tremendous amount of goodwill, and it is this account you tap when times go bad.
I hung in there for a long time when I didn’t hear from Marcos, because he’s a great landscaper and a sincere guy. I took him back because I’d yet to make a formal arrangement with another landscaper, but this would have eventually changed. He certainly took things to the brink, and that’s very dangerous from a business point of view.
The day after my call with Marcos, my wife mentioned she’d seen a potential landscaper around the corner and wanted to give me the name and number.
“You’re not going to believe this…” I said. “Marcos called last night after you went to bed.”
“No way. You told him to get lost, right?” she asked.
“Not exactly,” I said.
“You’re kidding me,” she said. “Why?”
“Because he’s Marcos,” I said with a smile.