Which business do you trust?

My word is my bond - Which business do you trust? |Courtesy in businessThe revelation that motor manufacturer Volkswagen ‘manipulated’ its diesel car emissions tests is a blow to trust.

A conversation with a neighbour this morning raised the fact that, as few of us service our own vehicles these days and have no idea how a car functions, we are totally reliant on manufacturers, main dealers and garages for the safety and maintenance of our vehicles.

We place total trust in them.

Our lives are in their hands.

What happens when that trust is broken?

We feel betrayed.

How can we ever trust Volkswagen again? And what about other motor manufacturers? Or manufacturers of other equipment? Or service providers such as the NHS?

We are so used to experiencing the ‘brand’ reinforcing the quality, reliability, service and other characteristics of these organisations, but how much of it can we believe?

Volkswagen chief executive Martin Winterkorn has apologised and said he is “utterly sorry”, but what message does the Volkswagen AG corporate statement give us when it says:

“Earnings targets for the Group for 2015 will be adjusted accordingly. Volkswagen does not tolerate any kind of violation of laws whatsoever. It is and remains the top priority of the Board of Management to win back lost trust and to avert damage to our customers.”

Does Volkswagen consider earnings before obeying the law? And does it place both before trust and damage to customers?

A brand embodies the qualities that a business imagines it exhibits, but the real ‘character’ of an organisation is established by the traits revealed by its everyday operations. How often do these match?

Perhaps businesses and organisations – especially large ones, but including smaller ones too – need to assess any gap between the brand they create to build their reputation and the reality of the products and services they actually provide.

Any gaps they find they need to close.

We need to trust.

It’s essential both for business and for us.

• Robert Zarywacz is co-founder of pleaseandthanks.co.uk and vice-chairman of the National Campaign for Courtesy | A copywriter, journalist, PR and partner at Zarywacz and pressme.co.uk | Follow on Google+ Twitter and LinkedIn

Spreading gossip about a solicitors’ clients

Is it courteous for a professional firm to discuss intimate details of your personal or business affairs in front of strangers?

Business courtesy: keep your clients' business confidential
Recently I had to visit an established firm of solicitors to collect a document. As I sat in reception, you won’t believe the juicy details of people’s affairs I overheard.

To the right of me sat three women – apparently a member of the firm and two clients – discussing a divorce in very audible whispers. I could tell you about the affair mentioned, but I won’t.

Then, in the centre of reception, a member of staff stood with a client discussing what action to take to stop a relative cheating her out of thousands of pounds she had invested in a joint property investment by selling the house without her knowing.

Did they realise we could hear every detail of their personal business? I would not pay £210 per hour plus VAT for services from a firm who allowed my business to be relayed to anyone sitting in reception.

Business courtesy: keep your clients’ business confidential

Both sets of clients must have had a lot resting on how their cases progressed and I think both required discussions in private. This is not only business sense, but also courteous.

These days, we are often required to discuss confidential details of personal and business matters in an open, public space by banks, building societies, councils and other government organisations. Not only is this not courteous, it is not a secure environment, especially when we encounter daily attempts to steal data about out personal and business identities and affairs.

The cost of privacy

How much does it cost to discuss such matters in an office behind closed doors?

Well, with charges of £210 an hour and offices located in the centre of a large town in South East England, I believe the solicitors I visited could easily have discussed these clients’ affairs in private.

Business courtesy goes beyond a friendly greeting and shaking hands: it’s about treating clients’ business with the confidentiality and respect it deserves.

Anything else is just not professional.

• Robert Zarywacz is UK writer, PR and journalist | founder of pressme.co.uk | partner in Zarywacz | courtesy consultant at pleaseandthanks.co.uk and the National Campaign for Courtesy | Follow on Google+ Twitter and LinkedIn

Does fair play cost too much for business?

Earlier this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted by the Telegraph saying that “economic growth is not enough to make Britain a ‘healthy society'” and that creating a more caring society is just as important.

Certainly, a strong economy is important to funding our homes, food and energy as well as the public services we all need  and the care that many people need. But the way in which we generate wealth is also important.

Care for employees and customers is equally as important as caring about shareholders.

We started pleaseandthanks.co.uk back in 2004 because we noticed a lack of courtesy in business. We don’t just mean not saying ‘please and thanks’ but people being utterly miserable because of an oppressive work environment. We saw that much of this could be improved simply by changing behaviour. Courtesy and caring costs nothing but can achieve a great deal. From a purely economic point of view, we recall the late Albert Humphrey’s research which showed that an atmosphere of ‘fair play’ increased the amount of energy employees put into their work.

Material conditions such as fair wages and employment facilities and conditions are important, but so is the way businesses treat their people and their customers.

As we emerge from the recession, it is time to consider how we want to behave as we see the prospect of pressure easing. While it is reasonable to expect those who can to work hard, it is also reasonable expect them to be treated fairly.

From the prices customers pay for products and services to the treatment of staff, there is massive opportunity for businesses to practise fair play. And we don’t believe it need be a cost but could offer considerable opportunity.

• Written by Robert Zarywacz | UK writer, PR and journalist | founder of pressme.co.uk | partner in Zarywacz | chairman of COMBEbusiness | courtesy consultant at pleaseandthanks.co.uk and the National Campaign for Courtesy | Find me on Google+

Just take two seconds to . . .

. . . say ‘thank you’.

It happens all the time. We’re busy. Our colleagues are busy. Our customers are busy. There’s a deadline to be met. We work beyond our contracted hours. We do it for our colleagues, for our customers, for the business or organisation, for the community. We lose all track of time to get it done.

And when we eventually click to send the report, post the goods or send off the delivery, that’s it: nothing.

No recognition, no acknowledgement, no thank you.

Someone recently told me that they had worked extremely hard, beyond the call of duty, to gather data for a project, only to hear other people thanked and their own contributions not acknowledged. They felt deflated.

It takes just a few seconds to email or text: thank you.

It takes just a few seconds to call and say: thank you.

It takes a few more seconds to pop your head into an office and say: thank you.

It takes a bit longer to call into another building and say: thank you.

Whether it’s a few seconds or a bit longer, your ‘thank you’ will mean the world to the person you thank.

And what’s more, they’ll work hard for you again when you need it.

It costs so little, yet means so much to everyone.

Read our recognition and acknowledgement polite prompt and checklist for ideas on how to thank those who work so hard for us.

Thank you.

• Robert Zarywacz is the co-founder of pleaseandthanks.co.uk and is courtesy consultant for the National Campaign for Courtesy. As well as focusing on courtesy in daily life, he believes wholeheartedly in the individual benefits and commercial value of courtesy in business and the workplace. Robert provides commercial copywriting, PR and social media services at z2z.com.

Courtesy works both ways at work and in business

It’s a common sight in doctors’ surgeries, banks and similar places to see signs saying that offensive language and aggression towards employees will not be tolerated and that anyone doing so will be required to leave.

Recently, I’ve also heard individuals complain about the way they have been treated by both public services and private companies.

Customers and employers need to be treated courteously: it works both ways.

How do we achieve this?

Sometimes employees who meet the public every day do become cynical. They can feel they are not being treated with courtesy or frustrated at having to answer the same questions again and again. But in many cases the customer is there because they need help. Just because other people have been annoying or discourteous must not make us judge everyone on first sight. Whatever job we’re doing, whatever level we’re at, it costs nothing to be courteous to customers.

In the same way, as customers we must not assume that any employee is going to be unhelpful. Even if we’ve had a bad experience with an organisation, we must treat the person we come to see courteously.

Everyone deserves to be greeted politely and to be  treated with courtesy. If we start in this way, very often our dealings will proceed smoothly.

But what if they don’t? What if an employee is surly and unhelpful? What if a customer is aggressive and even violent? Then it is right for an individual or organisation to take appropriate action, whether to complain or require a person causing offence to leave.

Institutional or habitual discourtesy causes headaches not only for businesses and organisations, but for employees and individuals too. On the other hand, courtesy embedded in our everyday lives encourages things to go more smoothly and is beneficial to both sides.

What’s more, courtesy is free and available to us all at any time.