Commentary: How do you handle your crisis “Moment of Truth”?

Solving problems before hitting the wall builds an organization’s reputation and good will.

If you’re facing a dissatisfied customer, determine how far you would go if pushed to the wall, then go there immediately and gladly, at the speed of light with a smile!

If you delay and frustrate the customer over several days and give in only because they complain repeatedly, they will still be angry even when you resolve the issue in their favor. And why not? After all, you’re wasting their time and energy.

Immediately and gladly – at the speed of light with a smile!

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That’s the simple message I preach to my clients to prepare them for unexpected challenges.

I heed my own advice, as well.

About 30 years ago when I owned an ad agency in Waco, I reordered $16,000 of coffee mugs after my client had already approved the artwork, even though our team left off a period in the client’s initials.

Although the client insisted that they keep the original mugs, I responded at the speed of light with a smile.

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I also gained an advanced degree – at the cost of $16,000 – in training my team how to proof projects! Suffice it to say, I understand making financially painful decisions.

Every difficult circumstance eventually reaches a moment of truth. In that moment, the party involved is revealed to be either principled or lacking in character.

I divide these decisive moments into three categories:

1.) See and seize opportunities: The earlier you spot them, the better

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2.) Can be resolved: These situations can be resolved before they become problems

3.) Festering problems: Turn these into opportunities if at all possible (as you’ll see below)

Imagine having to react to a situation in a split second with an expensive solution.

Here’s a true story that happened to my client Allen Samuels Chevrolet in Waco.

About 20 years ago, the dealership conducted a 30-day promotion to give away a $15,000 Chevy Colorado pickup truck. Contestants entered and 100 finalist names were drawn.

I asked the general manager if he wanted me there to manage the contest, but he said it seemed like a simple process and there was no need to incur charges for my services.

The 100 finalists registered, and the dealership event coordinator wrote each person’s name (but no other information) on separate entry forms and placed them inside the wire cage tumbler, from which names were drawn.

The last name drawn would win the Chevy Colorado.

The 100 names were whittled down to 50, then 25 and finally 10.

The event coordinator collected the 10 finalists and sat them in chairs in the middle of the showroom, surrounded by the audience. They were asked to announce their names, after which their friends and family members clapped.

The fourth name was Joe Smith, and so was the eighth name. We had two Joe Smiths!

What are the odds?

Keep in mind, I was not managing the contest, but I had a feeling that something might happen, so I attended as a favor to my client. With potential disaster looming, I looked to the event coordinator, who waved me off.

What could possibly go wrong?

My recommendation would have been to ask each Joe Smith to mark his entry slip with his phone number to distinguish the two. But remember, I had been waved off.

The two final names left in the drawing were – you guessed it – Joe Smith, and the event planner still hadn’t noticed that disaster was looming. I looked with a hopeful eye to the planner and dealership manager, but I was ignored again.

The event planner drew one of the names and said, “Joe Smith does not win the truck. So, that means our grand prize winner is … JOE SMITH!”

Suddenly the event planner and the dealership manager looked at me in a panic, and I motioned for the manager to meet me off to the side.

“No matter which Joe Smith you give the truck to, the other Joe Smith will claim it should have been his and he will likely take you to court,” I told him.

“If you take a lot of time to resolve this issue, you lose ALL the goodwill you have earned in this promotion. Determine how far you would go if pushed to the wall – and you will be, then go there IMMEDIATELY and GLADLY – at the SPEED OF LIGHT WITH A SMILE!”

My client – Bart Cooper – was a smart and honest leader. He took immediate control of the situation by saying to the crowd, “Since there’s no way to determine which Joe Smith should have won the truck, we’re giving away TWO trucks – one to each of them. Congratulations, Joe and Joe!”

I used my phrase about going there “immediately and gladly” in a story that appeared in the January edition of Monthly Musings, my monthly newsletter.

After reading that edition, Bart sent me an email that said: “This is probably the most important thing I learned from you in all our years together. It has saved me many a headache and has built up a lot of goodwill for me and the companies I’ve represented.

“Whenever I come into contact with someone who has to make a difficult decision with an unhappy customer, I’m very happy to pass this advice along. ‘It doesn’t do any good to give something to a person after you’ve made him push you to the wall.’ Thanks for this valuable lesson that I’ve shared with so many others.”

I have personally shepherded clients through moments like these, and I have also read with astonishment how some short-sighted business owners and managers have been pushed to the wall and failed miserably when facing their moment of truth.

Bart Cooper is an example of a leader who made the smart decision when it was financially painful.

By the way, he shared that this incident – a situation that could have ended very poorly – did more to build and reaffirm the dealership’s reputation than any other single event or promotion he could remember.

John Fletcher of Fletcher is a public relations and community relations consultant. He can be reached at or at