One of the biggest gripes I have about modern business today concerns the issue of common courtesy. It's a major failing of not only businesses but of consultants to get back to someone in a timely fashion, and I feel that it says volumes for each as to whether or not business will be transacted between the two.
I spent 18 years working in a relatively traditional business, although most people wouldn't consider working in a hospital as traditional. But it was; we received calls from clients just about as often as those who work in other businesses did.
We received the same kinds of advertisements through regular or email that everyone else did. Business is business, even if the vendors, or as we like to call them, corporate partners, were from different fields than many other businesses deal with.
As a hospital director, I was inundated with solicitations on a daily basis. Whereas I will acknowledge that I didn't often respond to the mailings that came, I at least opened every single one of them to give them a glance. I always returned every phone call I received, and I also always responded to every email I received.
I didn't do it for the most part because I wanted to partake of the services; I did it because it was the common courtesy thing to do. I did it because it's how I wanted people to treat my correspondences with them.
I have found, since I started my own business, that I've had to develop an even thicker skin than I did as a director. People can be rude, whether it's to your face or just by ignoring your trying to contact them, even when they may have initiated events. They don't see it as being rude; they see it as a nuisance, something that takes time away from their daily operation.
What they miss, however, is that they react with the same kind of anger if someone else doesn't return their call or email. What goes around comes around, as the motto says.
Consultants, or other self employed people, aren't all that much better, unfortunately. Many of us think about the immediate moment, not necessarily thinking about the long term effects of their actions.
I sat in someone's office for over 30 minutes without someone telling me why this person was taking so long to see me, and I finally got up and left without an explanation. Just because you're trying to network with someone or market to someone doesn't mean you have to lose your dignity.
When this person called me 3 weeks later (3 weeks, just to put it in perspective) to find out what happened, I told him how I felt about my treatment on that day. I didn't care whether or not his company wanted to do business with me at that point because I figured if I was treated like that once, it could happen again.
In the end, I got the business; I stuck to my principles of courtesy and took that moment to educate this person on proper decorum; we teach people how to treat us. I'm not sure whether or not this person has done that same kind of thing to anyone else, but we did end up working together, with a better understanding of each other.
I have had some business people tell me they never or rarely check their email; if that's the case, then why have it in the first place? Obviously you don't care enough about your business to check it at least once a day. Same with phones; I've had people say they rarely check their voice mail. That's just paying money indiscriminately.
Oh, you need it for business? You certainly don't act like it. Do I want to do business with someone who seemingly has a lack of business sense?
Time is of the essence in the business world; I know that as much as the next person. Still, every person also wastes a good amount of time, so why can't some of that wasted time be channeled into making sure the bonds of courtesy are not being broken by getting back to someone, be it by phone or by email?
How long does it take for you to respond to an email; a minute maybe? Or a phone call; another minute or two? For both sides, how sure are you that you will never need or use that person's services? For consultants especially, how secure are you that your act of rudeness won't end up costing you ancillary business as word spreads on how you potentially treat customers?
Just one more thing to think about.
Mitch Mitchell is president of T. T. Mitchell Consulting Inc, and a member of the Professional Consultant's Association of CNY.