The Tough Lessons I Learned from a Thief in my Business

By Todd Liles The Tough Lessons I Learned from a Thief in my Business
Thief in your business

A thief in my business stole over $25,000.  The worst part was that I never saw it coming.


The Heist Begins

Before Service Excellence Training, I was a minority owner in a start-up heating and air-conditioning, and plumbing business. In the early days I wore a lot of hats.  One of my responsibilities was to make outside sales.

In 2009, I sold a system to a very friendly lady.   During the sale, and during the install, she was pleasant, and nice. But after the sale, things got odd.

About a month after the install, she asked for a huge portion of her money back.  She asked for about 45% of her money back.   Her request was based on our “Value Match” guarantee.

Our Value Match Guarantee Stated:

“If another company can provide an identical or better install for less money, then we would match the other bid, plus give the client an extra $50 bucks.  This assures you get the best value.”

As a company, we went out of our way to provide a great value when it came to the install.  This value was represented in written guarantees and warranties; and in written install procedures that ensured a proper install.

A month after the install, the customer presented me with a competitor’s proposal that had matched word-for-word every value point on our proposal.

Before we go forward, I’m not mad that a client used our value match guarantee. That wasn’t the issue. I believe in the value match guarantee. The issue, was that something just did not seem right.

The Difference in Proposals

As I stated, she gave a proposal that was matched word-for-word, but there were suspicious differences.

  • First of all, it was a standard carbon copy invoice. No logos, no pre-printed addresses or phone numbers. All of these details were handwritten.
  • Secondly, the “Company” was one that I’ve never heard of and had no market presence.
  • Thirdly, literally every point of our value builder points were handwritten word-for-word in exact duplicate.
  • Last of all, she avoided all direct questions related to who the other company was. She instead made statements like, “they were referred by a friend,” and, “I really liked him.”

The Decision:  “Give the Money Back or No?”

In the end, she got the 45% refund she requested.   She kept our install, and took our money.  I personally wrote out the check, and hand delivered it to her office.

I asked her to sit down with me, and have a cup of coffee. The whole situation just didn’t sit right with me, and I needed to get down to the real issue.  Did we fail her?   Did we do something wrong?  I had to know!

So, I asked her.  Her answer stunned me.

The SHOCKING Revelation!

The customer told me this in a moment of guilty confession,

“The guy that wrote the proposal really does have his own company.  But, he was referred to me by your lead installer.  Your installer told me that if I would do this, I could get a lot of my money back. The deal was that he would get his friend to write the proposal, and they would keep half the money.  I’m sorry, but understand I’m a single mom, and I need the money.”

The Aftermath

You might be looking for a satisfying end to this story.  Like a scene out of Dick Tracy where I get the bad guy.  That would have been great, but no.

Apparently, the lady alerted the installer.  He took off before I ever saw him again.

Of course, we alerted the authorities. But by the time they went looking for him, he had already fled town.

The Lessons Learned

This was a painful experience for me.   I was hurt, angry, and vengeful. I wanted the thief to pay!

Thankfully, I had a mentor that reminded me that negative emotions are not productive.

Here’s what the experience taught me:

  • Business is risky. Business comes with high risk, but it also comes with high returns.
  • Some clients will take advantage of you, but most are awesome.   Most clients are good people, and don’t have negative intentions. So, don’t focus on the few that do plot to take advantage of you.
  • Some team members will steal from you, but most are awesome.   A background check doesn’t always discover a thief. So while some team members will steal from you; the vast majority are really awesome men and women who work hard and earn their money.
  • Stay focused.  I spent way too much energy trying to chase down the thief. What I should have done was focus on my business, and get back to selling.
  • Being different is worth it.  It takes guts to be different. But in the end, one bad experience isn’t worth changing your good standards.

Question:  What tough lessons have you learned?

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