“Thanks so much for calling me back” she said sounding a little surprised.
I smiled even though she couldn’t see me on the phone “well I always think when someone calls you should call them back. In fact I think it should be a new rule. Cool idea huh?”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone and she chuckled “well, to be honest I wish everyone followed that rule.”
“Yes me too.” I said with some empathy in my voice.
“I just don’t understand- we have vendors that I call and I call and they won’t call me back. It drives me nuts.”
“I know that is tough and it slows you down. Just a thought and I hope you don’t mind me saying this, maybe they shouldn’t be vendors of yours.”
“Oh I know if I had a choice- but here is the issue- they are all like that” she said.
“So what does that tell you?” I asked.
“I guess that tells me that have a lot of business. I am just one of many, or it might just be that people don’t have manners anymore. What do you think?”
“ I think you may be right I said- and I intend to break the mold.”
“Great. That would be refreshing.” She said.
“I will tell you what else- I think I need to address this in my next column.” I said.
Here is what I am hearing almost every week:
- People don’t call me back.
- People don’t respond promptly to my email.
- People don’t show up early.
- People don’t show up on time.
- People don’t return the voice mail I leave them.
- People don’t follow up as promised.
- People don’t say please and thank you.
OK it is just us leaders talking right? Gather in real close. So let me share a big stunning secret of my success. Are you ready?
I show up. I just show up when I am supposed to. I call people back, I respond to emails, I show up early, I say please and thank you. I do that for two reasons:
- It’s the right thing to do ( common courtesy in my mind)
- Sadly it separates me from my competition.
Now right now you are saying to yourself “what about product quality, pricing, service, differentiation, marketing, sales?” My response: if you don’t have down the fundamentals, the simple blocking and tackling- nothing else matters. I can’t do business with you if you won’t even call me back in a timely manner. I never even get to the differentiation stage. It’s stopped cold in its tracks, a customer service dead Popsicle.
So two questions come to mind:
- How/why does this happen?
- What does a leader do about it?
I have several opinions on how and why based on my travel around the country:
Home– I don’t think some families are teaching common courtesy and politeness in the home. It is not being taught at school. Proof of this – I get about ten calls a year asking if “Can I come to their location and teach their people “how to act.” When I ask what that means what they describe is almost always manners- it comes down to simple courtesy. So yes I go to their location and discuss courtesy and manners. I am not Miss Manners or Emily Post, just someone who gets business courtesy.
Company– Companies assume people have common sense and common courtesy. I have my finger on the pulse of the business world out there and I hate to break it to you ( I am a an optimist) but many people don’t have either one. As the old saying goes common sense is not common. Then, because they assume people know how to behave they don’t set standards of behavior. So people do what they think is best like ignoring an email until it becomes a third request.
Time– Everyone is overworked underpaid and stretched to the limit waiting for approval for more “head count”( that was supposed to happen last year) . The lack of time and the workload leads to- yep you guessed it lack of courtesy. “Hey I am sorry I didn’t call back sooner- I have been swamped.” I wish I was compensated for every time I have heard that one. These days I think is has a ring of truth to it.
Lack of training– Simply put they don’t know how- and haven’t been taught any different.
What does a leader do about it?
OK, except for your own home there is nothing you can do about how other parents raise their kids. It’s not likely the schools are going to suddenly start teaching values. So it is up to you and your organization. It comes down to three things: 1) Standards 2) Training 3) Leadership.
- Standards– Your company should have defined written behavioral standards. They should address how your folks communicate with customers and with each other. For example you can say “All emails will be responded to within 24 hours.” The standards should be observable, tangible or measurable, that way a leader can hold their direct report accountable to the standards. Remember that expectations with accountability get results. If you don’t have standards then assemble a cross functional team and get them written. Soon.
- Training- Teach people the skills and knowledge they need in order change their behavior to meet and exceed the standards. Besides it will not only help them at work it will help them in life as well.
- Leadership– Leadership must possess the skills of common sense and courtesy. They need to walk the talk. None of this “do as I say not as I do” nonsense. They must always teach and guide their team, and hold them accountable for successes as a well as doing course correction. Leaders should attend client meeting and meals and give people private feedback afterward on what they saw.
So the bottom line is this dear leader- you have to pay attention to common courtesy and manners. You may be failing out there and you are sitting in your office looking at the P&L and not understanding why.
Photo: Getty Images