The closer you are to the customer, the easier it is to become hurt or disappointed, warns columnist Don Green.

Despite what you might think after all these years, it really does take an awful lot to send me over the edge - especially when it comes to ending a relationship. I know what it takes to keep a customer happy to do a good repair job at a reasonable cost. I know the emotional and economical costs when things go wrong, so it isn't something I take lightly. The obvious question is, why let it happen? The obvious answer is simple: nine times out of 10, it can't be avoided because you don't see it coming. You know in your mind what needs to take place to make things work right, but somehow customers don't.

Like your businesses, ours is built upon long-term relationships. That means we generally are closer to our customers than the larger outlets that depend solely upon volume to sustain growth, which, under normal circumstances, is a good thing, but our growth is based on the wants and needs of our customers. The more intimate you become with your customers, the more rewarding the relationship is. But the other side of the coin is like a sharp knife which can cut deep and both ways. The closer you are to the customer, the easier it is to become hurt or disappointed.

After many years, we have had more than our share of close relationships. Almost everyone who trades with us are close friends, and we like it that way.

So let's get to the point! We sold a new rotary screw air end not long ago. We instructed the customer he was to replace all compressor system hoses with new ones, which he assured me he would, and of course, him being a good friend and long time customer, I felt my hose replacement request would be honored. We shipped him a carton of compressor oil filter elements to ensure, as he replaced these during periods of operation after start-up, a clean compressor oil lube system.

Unfortunately, after a couple of months of operation and many phone calls, he kept complaining that every time he replaced a filter element, he would find a couple of inches of mush-like substance in the bottom of the filter canister. No metal that could be attracted by a magnet, just the mush. So I kept asking, "Are you sure you replaced all compressor hoses as required?" and again his answer was, "Yes." The more I tried to get all the facts, the more he insisted he had honored all my pre-starting requests. Finally, totally frustrated, I traveled to his job site for a personal inspection. I came to the conclusion that this foreign substance found in the filter canister was from the internal lining of a hose. I noticed all the hoses had been replaced, with the exception of the hose from the outlet of the cooler to the compressor filter. I looked at the customer and then at the original hose as I began to remove the hose.

I showed him the interior of the hose, which had the lining completely gone do to excessive heat. This hose had not been replaced, as was explained to me, because "it looked good." As I was in the process of leaving, I explained to the customer that this problem was totally his because he had not followed instructions, which always has a cost, but I might as well have been talking to my car.

I suppose I ought to thank the customer who implied we hadn't done enough for him. He made me angry enough to stop what I was doing and find out what his problem was and correct it. You reward the customer with the best of everything you and your organization are capable of - invaluable things like character, integrity, ability, caring and performance. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a good deal to me. But, I think he got the message about our relationship.