September 12, 2012
Have you noticed how no one answers their phone any more? And how everyone hides behind voice mail. Everyone but me, that is. I always get the same reaction from people when I answer my phone: Shock. “Oh”, they say. And then they stumble around for words. Because they assumed they’d be leaving a message, not talking to a human.
Same with email. Unless you’re writing a friend or family member, a colleague or close business associate, you can consider yourself lucky if you ever get a response. Ditto with snail mail. It drives me insane. And then, what I hate the most, are the lies and excuses that inevitably follow: “Oh, really, I didn’t get an email from you. Oh, are you sure you called the right number? Oh, I am so sorry, I have just been crazy busy, I was planning to get back to you.” And then you see them posting drivel on Facebook or tweeting.
It even happens with blogs. I follow a lot of blogs. I very often comment on posts I like, or that resonate with me. At most, I get a reply 10 – 15% of the time. It’s interesting, though. Everything you read about blogs, and how to increase your readership, tells you to “like”, “follow” and comment on other blogs. All the experts say this is the best way to get more exposure for your blog (and yourself) and grow your audience. But none of them add that you should also do it because it’s common courtesy; that if someone has taken time out of their busy day to read your blog, and then takes the time to leave a comment, it is rude of you to ignore it. Why?
I think it’s because we’re smack in the middle of an epidemic of bad manners. And we’re completely self-absorbed. It’s all about ‘us’. To hell with you.
Several years ago I had a new business idea. I had an individual in mind I wanted to target. After sending him two letters, his assistant contacted me, presumably at his request, to ask me to elaborate on a couple of points. Which I did. Never heard back. I’m in no way suggesting he was under any obligation to have the slightest interest in what I was pitching. But if he asked me for additional information I believe I was entitled to a response. Even if it was a form letter, or a two-sentence reply written, and signed, by his assistant. Whereas I once thought of him as confident, inspiring, responsible, respectful and open I now think of him as arrogant, rude and dismissive.
In my eyes his brand is tarnished. And while he may not think of it this way, his personal brand and his corporate brand are entwined. So he should care what I think about him. Because it will influence my decision about ever becoming a client. And while I may not be in a position to become his client today, we never know what tomorrow will bring.
A long time ago, when I was in my second to last year of art college, I decided to look for a summer job. I would even have taken an internship position. I just wanted some real life experience. The man I interviewed with at the first art studio I visited was very pleasant. He took time to go through my portfolio; and also talked to me about what my longer term goals were. Although they didn’t hire summer students he did suggest that, once I’d graduated, I should try again.
Which I did. He was one of the first prospects I called and we arranged a date and time to meet. When I arrived for my appointment, the receptionist asked me to wait, as he was in a meeting. I waited 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 40 minutes. At which point I asked the receptionist to see how much longer he’d be. She made a couple of calls and then told me that he’d be unable to see me, after all. He’d been called away.
Funny, I was right there in reception. Unless he’d climbed out of the window in his office, I would have to have seen him leave. That is, if he’d ever even been in the office, in the first place.
I was disappointed, but what could I do. I had another appointment, not all that far away, so off I went. I had about a half hour to spare, so I decided to have a cup of coffee in a coffee shop that was located at the back of a pharmacy, in the building where I had my meeting. Lo and behold, the a-hole who had just kept me waiting for almost an hour was sitting at the table, right next to mine, laughing it up with a friend. Where he’d no doubt been all along. He didn’t recognize me. But I recognized him.
Fast forward about five years. When he called, asking for an appointment, I remembered his name. This time I was buying. And he was selling. No, I didn’t stand him up. I was there, waiting for him. I let him go through his entire spiel. Then I asked if he remembered me. He didn’t. I filled him in. And then I let him leave, empty-handed. Not totally out of spite. No. I declined to do business with him for this reason:
Once upon a time I hadn’t been important enough for him. I was small potatoes, easily dismissed and forgotten. Would a small or medium-sized project of mine get the same treatment? Would he only put his best team on the job if it came with a big budget? Would only large, high-profile jobs get his full attention? “Probably”, was my guess. And just before I let him go I told him exactly why I was taking a pass. He had himself to thank. All he’d had to do was man up and cancel the appointment ahead of time. How difficult is that?
You never know when the tables might turn. If he’d been familiar with one of my favourite quotes, perhaps the entire scenario could have been avoided: “Be nice to people on your way up, because you meet them again on your way down.”
So what’s the moral of the story? Be respectful. Be polite. Answer your damn phone when you’re sitting right beside it, and it rings. Put time aside, every day, to respond to your emails and voice mails; and make this behaviour part of your corporate culture, so your employees follow your good example, instead of your bad one. Delegate the writing of your ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ letters to your assistant or a more junior colleague; and make it a personal priority to at least let people know that their letters have gotten to you; and you appreciate the fact that they’ve written you.
People can think the best of you. Or the worst. It’s up to you. Just remember that ‘you’ are a brand. And your brand is also a reflection of your company’s brand.