Customer Relations

The 3 sides to every story, and how to deal with it.

3 sides to every story - CYA ruleThe three sides are: his, hers and the truth.

Now let’s put this into the context of a growing small business. His side is your team member, her side is the customer and the truth is somewhere in between the two. Unless your team member has followed our recommendation below, the tricky problem arises when the”story” is purely verbal – there is nothing written down.

And, whose side do you have to take? Hers, the customer – because the customer is (almost) always right.

I first learnt about the CYA (Cover Your Ass) rule when I worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers in Melbourne, Australia (in the late 1990s, straight out of uni.) I chuckled when a wise manager shared this rule with me, but immediately saw the sense in it.

When coaching growing businesses on some of the pains they experience as they grow, this scenario often comes up. A customer calls you, the owner / entrepreneur, to complain something a team member committed to doing hasn’t been done, or done to the quality or completeness the customer expected. You ask the team member their side of the story and it is different to the customers’, of course.

If the team member doesn’t have their side (clearly) in writing, you have to go with the customer. That’s where the CYA rule comes in.

The CYA (Cover Your Ass) rule helps your small business grow.

The rule is simply this:

If you speak with a customer about something important, like scope change of a project or clarification of a complex point, be sure to follow the conversation up with an email – so you have it in writing. Otherwise, we are exposed and if the customer calls us on it, I have to go with their story.

The email can be worded gently or in a friendly manner, it doesn’t have to sound robotic – tailor it to your business’ fun communication style. Another good tip is to end the email with something like “If my understanding of what we discussed / agreed around this isn’t right, can you please let me know in the next day or so?”

What a small business owner / manager can do to reduce customer frustration around expectation and scope management:

  1. Educate your team in the CYA rule, ask they use it
  2. Insert the CYA rule as a policy in your Operations Manual


P.S. I filed this post in the Key Reporting Area (KRA) of Business Development> Customer Relations, as getting this policy and habit in place early during growth helps boost the relationship you have with your customers. There will be less friction and fracas, and happier team and customers.

Podcast Survey

Our Podcast is launching SOON! Help us design this by answering these 7 questions - it takes less than 1 minute.

Subscribe To Be Emailed Blog Updates