This article was based on episode # 18: Violet Femm’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!
That little act of desperation cut into my annual bonus that year. — Violet Femm
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve received terrible treatment that it came to the point where you’ll lose respect towards yourself? The feeling becomes unsettling because you don’t have confidence in yourself and get easily pushed around by other people. But what if a whole company is the one experiencing that situation? How would that affect the performance of the company’s employees? Well, we will find out from our sharer for this day, Violet Femm, who will share her experience working on a company that is being bullied by a huge and famous client.
The story began when Violet was still working as the account manager of a technology retail company. This technological company was still in the early stages of development at the time. Therefore they were prepared to take on any client as long as the company could earn money. Violet’s company was in dire need of clients, and they were hoping to catch a large fish that would be the company’s turning point.
Their prayers have been answered because the company was able to secure a large client. This was their largest client, and everyone in the company, including Violet, believed that it would be the turning point in their professional careers. Now to avoid confusion, let’s name this huge client Jake. However, their company’s “savior” turned out to be their greatest nightmare and became the reason for Violet’s client-horror story. Why did Jake become their nightmare, you ask? Well, let’s dive into the answer right away!
Now going back, the company where Violet was working felt delighted because they found their first client, Jake. Violet’s company successfully earned Jake’s trust and began working really hard to complete the tasks given to them. In return, Jake gave them a considerable amount of return on investment. The exchange of salary and services kept going for years until Jake became the third of the company’s revenue. This means most of the money that Violet’s company has is mostly coming from this huge company. There was no problem at the beginning of their relationship until Jake started to act up and pushed Violet’s company around. Jake began to take advantage of Violet’s company because they knew they were the reason why Violet’s company started to develop.
Violet felt uncomfortable with their relationship with Jake, but she couldn’t do anything because her company didn’t want to lose Jake. The CEO of Violet’s company also told her that besides the money, they were also receiving other benefits from Jake, such as name recognition. The name of Jake’s company was famous all over the marketplace, and Violet’s company can use this as their strategy to earn other prospective clients’ trust immediately. They can easily tell a potential client that “We are supporting 3000 different websites from Jake’s company, so of course, it would be a walk in the park to handle your 600+ websites,” something like that.
Violet understood the benefits that her company received because of Jake. Still, during those months since their relationship changed, Jake was causing Violet’s company to lose money and their self-respect until it came to the point where it became difficult to support that particular client. Jake has the advantage of negotiating and getting better terms with Violet’s company constantly. There are even times where Jake doesn’t pay them for extra work because they can get away with it. The CEO of Violet’s company doesn’t quite feel the pressure because the one that is affected most is the account manager for Jake, which is Violet. Violet also said in the interview that “being the account manager was brutal, it was really brutal!”
Violet thought that their company’s maltreatment was because of Jake alone, but she was wrong. It turns out that most of the company’s clients were also giving them the same attitude. According to Violet, they also had 70 different clients who pushed the company around and acted inappropriately towards them. Violet then concluded that maybe something was wrong with the company where she was working, or the company’s CEO was too soft, which was why most of their clients were treating them like trash.
Violet wasn’t exaggerating when she said that most of their clients treat them like trash because she did a background check on the company before taking the position as the account manager. Violet documented and kept track of every person the company dealt with, and when she became the account manager, she also began to keep track of the list of clients that she handled. Most of the clients on the document all gave the company an attitude that made her feel like they were nothing but slaves.
Violet shared a lot of experiences where the huge company mistreated them. The first experience that she shared was her struggle with the procurement department of Jake’s company. For those of you who don’t know, the procurement department is a department in any company full of cold and strict people. The people inside that department are tasked to haggle as much as they can so that the company would be able to save money.
Most of the time, the CEO will let the procurement department handle the negotiations and manage all the contract signings because they are cold and have only one goal: to be cheap. For example, suppose you are working on a certain task for your client and want extra equipment to complete the task. In that case, you cannot directly address your concern to the CEO because the procurement department will be the ones to solve your problem.
Take note that their goal is to be as cheap as possible, so there would be a tendency of offering the most affordable equipment you need or be given an alternative tool to avoid spending money. Also, it would be hard to do trading with a company with a procurement department because it would be impossible to take a bigger amount from them. Their task is to get the best deals possible, and they would terminate any relationship if they had to, especially when the company they are handling is huge.
Now try to imagine Violet’s situation where Jake has their own procurement department. You can already feel how bad the situation is for Violet. Anyway, going back to the story, Violet shared her experience with Jake’s procurement department.
Violet was tasked to look for a technician because one of Jake’s websites was having trouble. The procurement department asked Violet how many hours it would take for the technician to fix the problem to put it on the contract along with the payment per hour. Violet doesn’t know how many hours it would take for the technician to fix the problem, so she didn’t give her answer to the procurement department yet. However, the procurement department was very strict and pressured her to tell them already to get the contract done.
Because she was pressured, Violet told the procurement department that it would take 2 hours to fix the problem. Violet said 2 hours because it was the safest answer. There was only one website to fix, so the technician would probably be done by an hour and a half. The procurement department then gave the contract to Violet, stating that the technician would get paid for 2 hours of work to fix the problem of that website. Violet signed the contract and immediately called the technician to do his job.
Unfortunately, the website had a lot of issues that the technician needed to deal with and a lot of problems to fix. So instead of working for 2, the technician spent 4 hours just fixing one website. Violet explained to the procurement department that the website had many problems to be fixed, so she asked for extra 2 hours of payment for the technician.
But, because they had an agreement, the procurement department used the contract against Violet. It was stated on the contract that they would only pay the technician for 2 hours of work, so in the end, Violet’s company paid the remaining 2 hours.
This scenario kept on going, and then the situation got even worse. It came to the point where Violet and the company would work for free. This is because the contracts that they were signing were incomprehensible, but they were pressured to sign them, so they did. Little did they know that it was written on the contract they signed that they agreed to work for free. Violet’s company would have avoided this situation if she had hired a legal team for their company.
1. The importance of a Legal team
Violet could have avoided this situation if the company had a legal team because Violet wouldn’t have to be pressured to sign any contract anymore. The legal team would be the one who will handle all the contract signing to prevent bad clients from taking advantage of you.
If you don’t have a legal team because it’s expensive and not the right time yet, then you have to reconsider for the sake of your company’s safety. Even if you feel like you don’t need it and know how to read the terms and agreements in any contract you encounter, it would still be an excellent investment to have a legal team to ensure your company’s protection.
If this happens, you can simply ask your legal team about it, and they will handle everything. Another typical example is when one of your clients asks you to work on something that’s not stated in your contract. If you have a legal team already prepared, you can simply tell that client that you will let your legal team decide.
Going back to the story, Violet’s company doesn’t have a legal team, so she would tell Jake to ask the CEO for the decision. But the CEO’s decisions are based on his emotions and his goal to make the client happy, so the CEO would definitely agree to Jake’s concerns even if he didn’t read the contract yet.
2. Read and understand the terms in your contracts before signing
This might not be applicable in Violet’s situation because of her CEO and the pressure given by Jake’s procurement department, but reading the contracts before signing them is really important. Some companies are mean and would take advantage of your company if you don’t properly read what is stated in your contract. Some would act friendly and let you sign agreements that you aren’t familiar with, not knowing that the contract could damage your company and career.
Let’s use Violet’s experience as an example. Jake’s procurement department knows that they were putting pressure on Violet. Plus, her company doesn’t have a legal team, so they took advantage of the situation and let Violet sign contracts that would greatly benefit them.
Now Violet was struggling because the procurement department was responsible for every single pillar of business Jake had. And because Violet was the one given the task to be this client’s account manager, she would get beaten up mentally and emotionally most of the time. Violet could not ask for support from her company because they only have limited account managers, and they were also assigned to other clients. Violet had no other choice but to work alone and attend to Jake’s requests.
Violet was so busy that this one time when Jake gave a lot of different tasks to Violet like the construction of a new store, brick fix, software rollouts, special events, and many more. Jake had all these tasks broken down into several huge departments, and Violet orchestrated them all together. The list of tasks for Violet was 70 items long, and it made her life a living hell. These tasks were too much for Violet, and she badly needed support from several account managers. But besides the fact that all the other account managers were busy, the things that Violet did were part of the format that Violet’s company gave to people who wished to become account managers.
Before hiring an account manager, the company’s CEO already told Violet that no matter the size of their clients, there should only be one account manager. Violet wasn’t lucky because she was given to this big-shot abusive client. But Violet was given a program manager and a team to help her with Jake. However, the project manager was just writing some reports, and the rest of Violet’s team was given a task inside Jake’s office doing specific tasks.
3. Learn how to adapt to change
This lesson is for the CEO of Violet’s company. He should have understood Violet’s situation and given her the support that she needs. Companies often define roles in a certain way, like what the CEO of Violet’s company did. But as the company grows and meets clients that are different from usual, you have to change the roles and adapt to the situation. Violet’s CEO failed to do this, and as a result, Violet was overloaded with work. Task lists are fundamentally overwhelming for anyone because it takes away their humanity.
Having a never-ending task list doesn’t allow you to be strategic. Violet’s role was supposed to be strategic to be able to make her clients happy. She was supposed to get more clients freely and secure more work or any opportunity for them. Violet’s time was supposed to be flexible, given that she was working for a retail technology company. A task list would disrupt her whole purpose and make her feel like an assistant rather than an account manager for this big-shot client.
That was the first example of Violet’s experience working with Jake. Now let’s proceed to another horrifying experience, and this time is more intense because Violet was having a problem with Jake and her CEO at the same time. During the project management of Jake’s seasonal activity, he asked Violet for extra equipment in their stores since Jake’s company was preparing for a holiday special event. Jake selected Violet and her team to install all the needed equipment to ensure that the stores were running.
Violet was also told to prepare the whole maintenance piece, return all the broken equipment to Jake, install new things, fix the fixable stuff, and many more. As always, Violet was very busy doing these tasks, and it was also the holiday season, so it was a stressful time for Violet. With all the tasks that Jake requested, Violet got a little behind because she lacked manpower.
Violet’s partner, the program manager, went out on a leave of absence the day before Jake realized that they were really behind on schedule. Violet was so behind that she still needed to organize around 500 out of the 700 different sites needed to be prepared for the event.
Even though Violet had a handful of project managers making sure that the technicians reached each site that needed repairs, they still needed a program manager to take care of the overall concerns. The program manager was supposed to check and ask each project manager and do a checklist on the progress on each site. But since the program manager left, Violet had no other choice but to multitask and overdo herself.
But despite the extra effort, Violet gave for the task, it wasn’t enough to finish at least half of the sites to be prepared. This is where Jake came in and asked Violet, “Can you please tell me if your company can really do this and accomplish it in the next three days?” Violet wasn’t sure what to answer to Jake, but she saw how stressed her project managers and technicians were when she looked around. Violet was also exhausted from doing everything alone, so she told Jake that they could not finish the task in three days.
4. Know when to ask for help
Violet made the right choice in telling Jake that they could not finish it in the next three days. She assessed her environment and took into consideration the status of her colleagues. Whenever you are in a situation like this, never hesitate to voice out. Make an assessment and evaluate yourself if you can continue or not. Most people would say they could do it even though they know that they are at their limits.
Pushing the boundaries is a good thing, but overextending your capacity and overestimating yourself could make things worse. If you told Jake that you could finish it even if you can’t, you are to blame if your client’s event failed due to malfunctions and technical errors.
Right after Violet gave her answer, Jake did not hesitate to bring in another vendor to help and support the event by rolling out pieces of equipment to the rest of the sites. Violet was relieved because the vendor helped lessen her burden, and they won’t have to be pressured to finish all the 700 sites by themselves. However, the relief turned into sorrow because she got into trouble with the CEO and the VP of operations of her company.
They were not happy when they heard the news that Violet had brought another vendor into their work. In Violet’s defense, she told the CEO and the VP of operations that she knew they couldn’t finish it in 3 days. She added that they only got 75 sites, and it was already black Friday, and there were still many sites that lacked equipment and installation.
Violet spent most of her time manually doing some reports to share the progress with Jake. The CEO also had his mistakes because they couldn’t look for systems and applications that could make their employees’ jobs easier. Violet spent 36 hours a day producing a manual report. Violet worked day and night to get manual reports for every site that they had visited. If they had software or a system that would make creating reports easier, Violet could have possibly finished more sites. This also applies to all other employees of the company.
But Violet’s company lacked the initiative to do it, so Violet had to go into each system manually and check to see the status of the visits they did. This made Violet realize that the company she had been working with was the main reason for her agony because they were too fixated on making Jake happy. It was them who didn’t adapt to change when Violet needed support. They indeed told Violet they only assigned one account manager for each client they had, but they should have adapted to this big-shot client they love.
They knew from the start that Violet was having a hard time managing Jake on her own, so the least they could do was give her a partner for assistance. Jake didn’t do anything wrong that time because he was only concerned about the success of his event. He did not bring in another vendor because he wanted to replace Violet’s company. Jake looked for another vendor to help save Violet and her team from failing to complete the task.
However, there is still one lesson behind Violet’s act of calling for help. Violet thought of this before answering Jake, but she was certain that her company would not act fast to this request.
5. When making a huge decision, always inform your CEO ahead of time
Violet thought of informing her CEO first before giving that answer to Jake. But Violet hesitated to tell Jake to wait for the CEO’s opinion because she knew in the back of her mind that they would say yes. They won’t consider the situation of Violet’s team for as long as they would earn money. They didn’t even bother finding a replacement for the program manager that gave an absence leave.
If they were concerned about Violet’s team, they would have given them an extra workforce to complete the task, but they didn’t. This was the reason why Violet hesitated to inform them first and made a decision on her own. However, this is only applicable to extreme scenarios. If you ever encounter a situation like this one, always inform your CEO before making any decisions. Remember that your actions, words, and decisions will all reflect the company you are representing.
Violet is aware that introducing another vendor to Jake is a massive letdown to the company because it is like helping your competitors win the race. But still, Violet chose her colleagues and the company’s reputation, so she told Jake that they couldn’t accomplish the task in three days. The CEO and the VP of operations didn’t see the goodness in Violet’s decision, and they didn’t consider the pressure she was under during that time.
Violet got so frustrated that she burst into tears and actually told her husband that she would quit that job. But she thought of the possibilities that could have happened if she had told the CEO first before giving her answer. She remembered their company could have pulled in many resources that could support them during those times. Violet’s company had a lot of call centers that could help the technicians by calling. Extra project managers could support the store managers by calling and trying to troubleshoot equipment in each lacking site.
But again, the company lacked initiative, and they didn’t show the slightest support to Violet even if they knew they were having some troubles. If Violet’s company showed even a little bit of compassion, like adding three more project managers or simply asking Violet their concerns, she would have considered asking them first and prevented another competition from stealing their client.
Jake was also breathing on her neck during that time because he badly wanted this event to be successful. It was like the moment Jake knew that Violet and her team were behind on schedule, he immediately looked for another vendor and was waiting for an opportunity to tell Violet about it. So as the result of that decision, Violet said, “That little act of desperation cut into my annual bonus that year.”
The last experience that Violet shared with me about her struggles while working with Jake was when she was managing Jake’s warehouses. This was challenging for Violet because Jake had a lot of inventory, and he wanted Violet to make a report of all of them. Jake wanted to know the updates of the warehouse, where everything was, the new installations, and everything else.
These warehouses were huge, and Jake had many clients using these warehouses, so sometimes things get mixed up. Violet’s team was also starstruck by the enormous warehouses, and they sometimes miss to scan certain things. This is because there were many things to be installed, and Violet’s team was doing it all manually. Again, it comes back to the issue where their company doesn’t provide them with software and applications to make their work faster and more efficient.
There is a warehouse there that had an entire store with clothes, and Jake would send out a couple of technicians to pack up that store. Every single piece of technology that Jake has in the store that he would send out to his clients, the warehouse needs to account for every single piece of equipment that arrived at its destination. The process in the warehouse is complicated, and before Jake asks Violet’s help, there are a lot of mistakes and problems that occur.
Several pieces of equipment weren’t scanned, and products were sent off to clients without proper documentation. This was the main problem of the warehouse, so the vendor manager of Jake’s company wanted Violet to fix the inventory problem and make a particular report every time there was a movement in the warehouse. It seemed like an easy task, but Violet couldn’t get it right.
One of Violet’s colleagues would spend his entire 40 hours a week making this specific report so that by Friday, Jake and the vendor manager would know the details of what happened during that week. But Violet’s team would always fail because the vendor manager would change his mind in the middle of the week, saying things like “what if we can do this” or “could we do this instead?” And because they did the reports manually, they would go back the very next week and try to recreate that same report with his little tweaks.
The vendor manager kept on doing the same thing, and each time he did it, he always complained that he wasn’t satisfied with the reports. But the vendor manager is not the only one to blame for the lapses because if Violet had the right software, she could have easily made those changes and satisfied Jake and the vendor manager. Also, even though the vendor managers aren’t satisfied with the reports, they still need to pay Violet and her team.
If the vendor manager wants to change something, it must be included in the payment. Well, at least that’s what Violet thought. It turns out that the CEO wasn’t expecting a charge from Jake and treats the reports as free. The CEO believed that the task was easy, and Jake didn’t need to pay for it. Violet wanted to tell the CEO that they should have charged Jake for the reports because it took time and energy. Violet didn’t bother because she knew the CEO wanted to make Jake happy.
Violet’s company even volunteered to pay for Jake’s vendor managers to travel to his warehouse. It’s funny because the warehouse owner was Jake. They weren’t paying Violet for guarding the process in the warehouse. Plus, the company was the one who paid the travel fee of Jake’s vendor managers to the warehouse. This wasn’t even part of the agreement. The CEO just wanted to show his appreciation by paying Jake’s travel fee. But it doesn’t stop there.
Violet’s company also paid for every single meal that their visitors ate for the entire week. “The coolest thing about this job is they liked to take the client to fine dining restaurants and I could order any wine I wanted. I was a complete alcoholic for the entire two years but I drank some really good wine.” Even though the situation was stressful, Violet still saw a way to look at the bright side and enjoyed the meals and wine. Plus, it was the company’s money, not hers, so she could eat and drink all she wanted.
That was the end of Violet’s client-horror story. What’s good about this story is how Violet became more wise and confident today because of the lessons she received from that experience. She is now working for a huge company that treats her well. The company also has a legal team and a procurement department, so she applied everything she learned from her client-horror story. I hope you learned something from her story, too, and use it in your daily business life. Thank you and have a nice day!
This article was based on episode # 18: Violet Femm’s Story, please watch the complete episode here!