Preface: I originally wrote this on April 29, 2004

I don’t know why I’m surprised that I’m writing about this once again. I don’t know why I keep wondering what has happened to business courtesy when there’s little courtesy in the regular world. I don’t know why I still let some of these things bother me; they just do.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by someone who asked if I was available for a project they had in New Jersey. I said I was, and I was told that the client was really eager to get someone in, and that he’d be calling me back in a couple of days. I never heard back from him. I called and left a message twice, and he did call back to leave another message, saying he was still working on it but would contact me at the beginning of the next week. I never heard another word.

About two and a half weeks ago I heard from someone else asking me if I was available for a project in Michigan. I said I was available, as I hadn’t heard from the other person, and I was told that I would be contacted by the next afternoon, after she had spoken to the potential client. I’ve called two or three times, and I really haven’t spoken to her since. I say it that way because once I reached her, she asked if I’d call her back at a specific time, and when I called at that time she wasn’t available.

About a week ago I spoke to someone else who wanted to know about my availability for an assignment. I happened to be available, and I said I could do the assignment. She said she’d get back to me. She didn’t, but this time I was able to talk to her. She said they were on hold with the assignment, and she was sorry she hadn’t even thought about calling me back.

These are just a few situations that have occurred to me. I talk to people all the time who each have their stories of being mistreated or not having courtesy shown to them by someone else who’s supposed to be a professional.

There’s the story of a gentleman who called someone up to set up a meeting. He was told by the client that he had another meeting first, in his office, but would like to meet him. The gentleman shows up and the other guy’s not there, but he decides to wait 30 minutes for a no-show. He calls this guy at least 3 times and he doesn’t answer his phone. They schedule another meeting for 3:00 the next day, the gentleman calls around 1:00 to confirm, but when he calls again around 2:30 to tell him he’s on his way, suddenly the phone is disconnected.

Then there’s the story of the woman and her husband, who decided to have some repair work done in their home. One of those repair jobs was an irritating leak in one of the upstairs showers. They chose a handyman, set up the appointment set, and all seemed okay. The policy of this company was if their service person is late, you’d receive a $25 discount. Well, not only was he late, they had to reschedule the appointment 2 weeks later!

She takes the day off to wait for the repairman to arrive for his 10am appointment. At 3:30pm, she has to call to find out if he’s going to show, and is told he would be there by 5pm. That’s now $50 they’re owed. The guy finally arrives at 5:30pm (they’re now owed $75) and dutifully crawls into the space beneath the shower. He emerges to tell them that he can’t repair the shower leak unless he cuts a hole in the ceiling above the kitchen sink, adding “Oh, and by the way, I lost the back to the telephone (which they were using to talk to him as a walkie talkie; the phone was only 2 months old), which I can’t find in the crawl space, and I broke the hatch door (it was totally splintered). But I’ll make you a new one and be back in an hour!” They’re still waiting for the guy to return, the shower still leaks and they had to order the replacement part for their telephone.

It makes you wonder how anyone stays in business. One has to wonder when there’s a lack of customer respect, rather than customer service, what the agenda is. If you decide that these acts aren’t meant to be malicious, then you have to figure that it comes down to one of three things; fear, disrespect, or stupidity. Let’s explore these.

Fear could be a legitimate reason for not getting back to someone, though it’s a weak one. We all have a fear of the unknown. If you have no idea how someone else might respond to whatever it is you have to tell them, it could paralyze you. Even if the perception is incorrect, it’s still that person’s perception. Many of us have those types of fears when we’re trying to promote ourselves, so why would we think it would be different for someone who has to give news that wouldn’t be considered good? It’s still a bad way to run a business. If you’re afraid to call someone back, and you’re a manager or business owner, you shouldn’t be in a position of leadership.

Disrespect is not a legitimate reason for treating a client or customer badly, but I’ve seen it often enough. I’ve heard employees say that someone deserves whatever, because of some perceived slight the client or customer gave them, or just because they didn’t like the person. Business isn’t supposed to be personal, but many people take it that way. I’ll recognize that some clients can be nothing but trouble to work with; if that’s the case, don’t take the job, don’t work with the person, and be adult enough to tell them so.

Stupidity is inexcusable, but expected. There are some people who really don’t know that they’re doing things wrong. They are so inconsiderate and self centered that they really can’t see that they’re treating someone else in an inappropriate manner. How these people stay in business, I’ll never understand, but they do. How these people progress and end up in positions of leadership in companies, I’ll never understand, but they do. For these folks, it’s never about anyone else; it’s all about them.

Customer respect isn’t all that hard to follow through on. We all say we want to be treated as we treat others. For many people, it’s exactly how they are being treated; they just don’t see it. How much effort does it take to be nice to people? How much effort does it take to be courteous? Is it such a problem to be upfront and honest? Or am I just being too sensitive?