By Bill Fonvielle and Rowan Jackson
Around this time a year ago, I was sitting on a train heading towards London for a client meeting. 15 minutes before I was due to arrive, the unmistakable ding of my phone alerted me to a rather abrupt message indicating that our meeting had been cancelled without explanation. I was furious. Not only was my meticulously planned day now seriously disrupted, but I had paid for a journey that was no longer necessary. I’d lost several valuable working hours and had to reschedule the meeting at great cost to myself and my team.
Upon meeting said client later, the long overdue explanation for her cancellation fell well short of justifying the postponement. While the excuse itself seemed weak, the way in which it had been handled was most inconsiderate. As previous interactions confirmed similar patterns of behaviour throughout the company, I concluded that this was a trend likely to be inflicted upon many others; potentially including customers.
This is how easily business relationships can become fractured.
In our busy world of competing priorities and on-demand flexibility, many seem to take advantage of the expectation that circumstances can change at the drop of the hat by reneging on prior commitments without a hint of care or consideration. The unintentional consequence of such impudence is that people naturally revert to some centuries-old principles when it comes to forming their decisions.
We unconsciously observe how others react and the speed of their response. Regardless of whether we are the customer, supplier, employee or colleague, our minds can’t help but track behavioural trends. We attach meaning to our relationships such as what their conduct tells us about their true nature, and question whether we can trust their temperament or rely on their product or service. This forms the basis of how we feel about what they represent, and almost certainly underpins whether we choose to engage with them in future.
True as it always was, the companies that treat us well earn and keep our custom. In fact, such organisations are over five times more profitable than their counterparts. At an institutional level, good manners can be leveraged for profit.
Here are six habits to reflect upon as you explore how bad attitudes manifest in your business relationships:
- Time is money. Do you or other people representing your company turn up to meetings (in this case, including prearranged phone calls) on time? If you are consistently late or keep a client waiting, what does that say about the reliability of doing business with you and your ability to meet deliverables?
- Office inefficiency. Are your diary appointments constantly changing? This one is a real trust killer and creates a toxic culture of missed deadlines and inaction resulting from the ensuing delays. What does this do to potential productivity and how much money are you leaving on the table owning to efficiency failures?
- Wrong priorities. Do you find yourself moving the earth for one client? Think about the message that sends. Your clients know you have other clients – you don’t need to ask “how high?” when they want you to jump. If you drop everything for them at the expense of others, you’re signalling that you’re equally likely to drop them when a better bet comes along in future. What they really want is for you to demonstrate thoughtfulness. “When do you really need this by?” is a good compromise and opens up the opportunity to work out a deadline that doesn’t disrupt other work.
- Management mayhem. Replace the word ‘client’ with ‘boss’ in the above scenario and you have another classic of the corporate world – the sudden requirement that everything must be dropped for a management meeting or conference call. Leaders should not demand instant attention without respect for existing commitments. This sets the tone for the whole organisation and its business interactions.
- Mitigate inconvenience. If you really must alter a deadline or cancel a meeting for good reason, do you give other involved parties enough notice to avoid inconveniencing them? If there isn’t enough time to give proper notice, then simply honour the original commitment and work around it; otherwise you show a lack of dedication that spells disaster for the long-term relationship.
- Email etiquette. Treat your email inbox with the respect it deserves. The likelihood is that any inbound business email (notwithstanding spam or cold contact) is sent for good reason. The worst response is no reply at all. It only takes a few seconds to say “thanks but no thanks” or similar. This shows that you’re attentive. The same applies to internal emails from colleagues, who would much rather be getting on with their own work but had to reach out for something. Don’t disrupt their workflow by ignoring it if you’re perfectly able to shoot off a quick reply.
As the late First Lady of the United States Barbara Bush once said: “never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, colleagues and even strangers you meet on the way.
We all have our own expectations of how we’d like to be treated by individuals and organisations alike. While they can vary dramatically from person-to-person (even within the same company!), you might be surprised to learn that these expectations can be measured with pinpoint accuracy. There are also reliable methods to assess how well you perform against customer and employee expectations.
If you wish to discover how Promising Outcomes can help you uncover the hidden expectations that underpin the success of your business relationships, contact us for more information.