It’s not something that we like to do very often, but we fail more often than we would like to admit.
Nobody likes to admit to defeat. But it happens.
In a business with so many independent variables, there are no guarantees. We can’t promise that we will be able to dig up some salacious information about a key witness if nothing really exists. And we can’t promise that we will find your long lost Uncle Louie who skipped town 30 years ago if he is living off the grid in Thailand.
The best we can do is to lay out all the information, give an honest assessment about our capabilities and the amount of time and resources that it could take, and provide a client with our best course of action.
But even the best laid plans can go down the tubes.
￼Finding Jane’s Father
Last month, we were retained by Jane (not her real name), who was looking for her father. She didn’t even know her father existed until five years ago, when her estranged mother called her out of the blue. After she spent five years gathering details about her father, the only things she had to go on were his first name, the town where he was born in Eastern Europe and his approximate age. She also believed that he had immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s and lived somewhere in the Midwest. She thought she also knew the first initial of his last name.
Jane had spent more than five years looking for her father and had incredibly detailed notes of her encounters with everyone who knew him. She had spoken to every member of the family whom she knew, had done her own digging around, and had called and ruled out a number of possibilities.
But she was stuck.
Right from the beginning I knew that this would be a tough case. The only factors that made this even a remote possibility were that her father’s first name had an unusual spelling and that she had a pretty good sense of his age.
I explained the challenges at the outset, and after some internal discussions we laid out a plan to help her. We knew it would not be easy and would take quite a few man-hours and resources. We could provide absolutely no guarantees.
Aware of the risks, Jane asked us to go forward.
￼Even the Best Laid Plans Can Go to Sh*t
In the end, after a few weeks of painstaking research and calls to individuals who fit the description of her father, we delivered our report.
In a call with Jane, I explained the process that we went through to get to the point we had reached.
We didn’t find her father. We had done everything we could.
It’s never easy to tell someone that you failed. We both knew the risks, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
A few days later, we sent her a routine follow-up to see how satisfied she was with our services and how likely she was to recommend us.
Who would blame her if she gave us a less-than-perfect score?
But she didn’t; she gave us perfect 10s.
￼How to Fail Successfully
We followed some of our own tenets for handling client expectations: we communicated often; we were completely transparent in what we were doing; and we gave a (brutally) honest assessment of the probability of finding her father.
In the end, we had eliminated everyone in the United States who matched the information she gave us for first name, first initial of the last name and age in the general age range.
Failure is inevitable in this business. Although we didn’t “succeed” in this case, we did have a client who was more than satisfied about what we did to find her father.
You can’t always predict results. But you can approach each case with honesty, openness, transparency and a healthy dose of communication.