There is a tiny little Moment that is wrecking your small business. Even worse, it is trashing people’s opinions of every small business, making it harder for you to succeed. And you probably don’t even notice it.

What is this Moment? It is the Moment when something costs you money… or messes up your nicely planned schedule…. or inconveniences you in any way. Once any of these Moments happen, most of us magically start reminding customers why they would rather shop online, visit big-box stores, or work with large consulting firms – because we lack the ability to look past our own interests.

I remember being at a travel agency in the 1980s. I had booked a complex vacation itinerary, but then my plans changed. I can still hear the agent sighing deeply as she refunded my ticket and her supervisor   coming over to yell at me about how much time she had spent arranging my trip. Here’s what’s different nowadays: Travelocity and Orbitz don’t yell at me when I change a ticket! And so, I am delighted to never ever have to speak with a live travel agent, even though I am sure there are great ones out there.

These Moments even happen when something is totally your fault. Once, I had a local printer (who crowed loudly in their advertising about customer service) print my business cards. They came out crooked. Their response? To look at me like I had three heads and stammer, “This would mean we’d have to print the job all over again.” Well, duh, yes! Small wonder they folded soon after.

Now, let’s get even more personal. You run a small consulting firm and your biggest client is two months late paying you. A larger firm would probably send them a past-due notice or even a small finance charge. How about you? Would you beg, plead, call repeatedly, or even worse, discuss the impact on your personal finances? Then, you have joined the burgeoning ranks of small-businesses-as-pain-in-the-ass.

Once in a while, I have the ability to read people’s minds and I can probably read some of yours right now: “But paying two months late isn’t right! Who wants clients like that anyway?” Well, for one thing, I do. My ability to keep smiling while contracts and invoices bump and grind their way through accounts payable frankly helps me get and keep a lot of lucrative work, especially since the 2008 crash. But here is the bigger concern: If you annoy people more than your larger brethren, you lose. And worse, you gum it up for the rest of us.

Here is how I manage my Moments: I aggressively out “yes” everyone I know. Stay up until 5 AM to finish a project? Sure! Get up at 5 AM for a meeting? You betcha. Rewrite something for the fourth time because your committee can’t make up its mind? Coming right up. Wait 60 days to get paid? No problem. Even if you aren’t as crazy as I am, thinking more like a customer – especially in all of those gritty little moments that challenge you – changes everything.

You may have a great business plan, good financing, and a competitive product or service. But if your face to the customer is like a restaurant with a big “No Substitutions” sign, you’ve got a problem that will kill you faster than almost anything else – and most of the time, you won’t even realize it. So, think through how you manage your Moments and watch things change dramatically for the better.

So, what do you think? Have you experienced some Moments managed well? Have you experienced some customer service train wrecks? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.