Every time we show up for my son’s baseball lesson, I anticipate an adventure. And the last time was no different.
For some background, his instructor, let’s call him Barry, is a former professional baseball player. Barry’s assistant, Ray, is a college-age player who sometimes teaches the students. Since Ray is very good, I really don’t mind who delivers the actual lesson when we show up, as long as someone does.
When we walked in for our last lesson at about 10 to 7, I saw Ray, but no Barry. And since only my older son, Tyler, was taking a lesson that day, all was right with the world. But, as is often the case with Barry’s scheduling, all didn’t stay right long. A few minutes later I saw another Dad with his son walk in, baseball bag on his back, ready to go.
Ray talked to them only a few feet away and so I was able to hear the conversation.
“Hey guys, I just talked to Barry and he said he had you down for 7:30.”
“No,” said the dad pleasantly, “we’re booked for 7.”
None of this, by the way surprised me, as Barry is terrible with keeping his appointments straight and, when they are, he often reschedules people for one reason or another.
“I just talked to him, and he said he has you down for 7:30,” Ray pleaded apologetically.
At this I saw the dad do something that didn’t surprise me at all. He held up his phone to Ray in defense of his position, after which Ray threw his hands up as if to say, “I just don’t know what to tell you.”
Of course, the dad was showing Ray the text between himself and Barry confirming the appointment was, in fact, for 7.
“I’m sorry,” said Ray, “but I’ve got another student at 7 so if you guys can wait, I can do you at 7:30.”
And so Tyler and I got lucky and were able to go when were supposed to: at 7. I assume if we hadn’t arrived first, we’d have been the ones sitting around for a half hour despite text confirmation we were there at the right time. Such things infuriate me.
Barry, you see, needs an admin — badly. He’s got tons of appointments to manage, which he does poorly in his paper book. He simply can’t scale, and I assume it’s hurting his business.
But then I thought about how I’d recently re-upped with Barry for another 10 pack of lessons. I didn’t do this lightly. As I said, I’d been frustrated with Barry for the reasons cited above, and so before it was renewal time, I did my research on the other “games” in town, or in the local area, but despite my investigations I was unable to find a suitable alternative.
And it’s this concept of suitable alternatives that got me to thinking. When we turn sour on an important business relationship in our lives — and this is for cases where we will continue to need the product or service, but just want it from another provider — we can’t just quit until we find that suitable alterative. Defining what constitutes it, however, is a complex equation taking many factors into account.
One of these factors I’ll call the stickiness of the relationship. The stickier it is, of course, the harder to switch, or the greater incentive you need to make the effort. For example, my relationship with my accountant is very sticky — he knows my business, does my personal and business taxes and is located close to my house (so I can get an in-person meeting if necessary). Though I have switched accountants before, it’s not something I’d do lightly. Recently my accountant got under my skin with his lack of responsiveness but, rather than looking for the door, I gave him a written kick in the ass, which seemed to do the trick. With him, leaving is an absolute last resort.
Let’s take my dentist as a different example. He’s located close to my house, which I like, but if things ever went south, I can’t see it being a big deal to just go somewhere else the next time I need service. I don’t have a lot of dental issues, and so I wouldn’t even necessarily need my records transferred. I think he knows the tenuous nature of his patient relationships, and as a result, is pretty customer-service oriented.
Back to Barry. As mentioned, Barry is a hot mess. I certainly can’t describe the relationship as sticky — other than the fact that I’d be sure to finish any lesson already paid for before going somewhere else. The issue with him is I can’t find a good alterative within a reasonable distance from my house. I made a call to the one place that might make sense, but didn’t hear back. The other place I’d like to try is just a bit far from my house (maybe 35 minutes). And so I find myself in the position of deciding how frustrated I am with Barry. If the other place were 20 minutes away, I’d have switched already. As my irritation with Barry increases, so does my tolerance for a longer drive.
One of the most informative books I’ve read was “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” which introduced to me the concept of BATNA – best alternative to a negotiated agreement. It means that your negotiation power is based on your best alterative if things don’t work out. If you’ve got a great BATNA, you negotiate from a position of strength. If you’re dealing with the only game in town, you’ve got nothing.
Keep this concept in mind, and use it to frame both the relationships in which you are provider and those in which you are consumer. It will tell you not only how much you’re stuck with others, but how much how much they are stuck with you. And that can make all the difference.