I want to complain . . .

. . . you want to complain – everyone wants to complain, because everything goes wrong.

Trying to accomplish even a simple task, like registering a change of address with a big company, can turn into a nightmare these days. And if you share your bad experience with friends and acquaintances, together you find you can put together a whole catalogue of administrative disasters chronicling the commonplace corporate inability to understand customers’ requirements and take appropriate action.

A recent letter on this topic in The Times newspaper suggested that these experiences are created either by bad fortune or because nothing works in this country.

But perhaps we feel things are worse than they really are, because we are bombarded by adverts and direct mail depicting utilities and suppliers of everyday services as emergency services staffed by super-heroes, who are driven by a single-minded vocation to help ordinary people to change a car tyre or buy house insurance.

We know they are not super-heroes; they are not emergency services; they are not vocations – they are utilities, literally things that are useful.

Having set themselves up, these companies then knock themselves down further by committing to unachievable levels of ‘service delivery’.

It’s no wonder that we want to complain when let down by poor service. But just how poor is the service we receive?

Recently, I moved house and was mildly surprised at how smoothly it all went. On the whole, people were extremely efficient. Many organisations coped well with the change of address – perhaps because my expectations were lower as a direct result of far-fetched advertising claims, the reality was able to exceed them comfortably.

This is rather a negative way of achieving a good result, but the point is that I am happy because most things went well. If you work in a utility or an advertising agency, I’ll repeat that specifically for you: I am happy because most things went well.

Some things did go wrong.

The order for the changeover of our home telephone failed, even though it had been confirmed to me a fortnight previously. On moving day, I did almost lose my temper when I found it impossible to prove my identity when trying to sort this out on my mobile, as most of the documentation was not close to hand. But when we had surmounted this obstacle, I was impressed that our telephone line was connected within minutes. I apologised for my moment of weakness and thanked the chap who had sorted out the problem.

The postal redirection for our business post also failed inexplicably, although again this was sorted out quickly and efficiently over the phone and the important cheques I was awaiting were redirected to my new address within several days.

These initial failures were disappointing, but the efforts taken by call centre staff to put them right were admirable.

It is a shame that so often it is what goes wrong that sticks in our minds. After all, we were helped by marvellous removal men, our solicitor and his secretary, a delightful telephone engineer and many others who did their jobs so well to our delight. We’re making sure that we let them know that we appreciated their services, even though that’s what they are paid to do.

On balance, I feel good about the move. It was not without its moments of tension, but my overall feeling is one of contentedness – and that is all I want: not super-heroes from infallible emergency services.

It is far easier to thank and appreciate people when our expectations are realistic. No service is ever perfect, but most of us are able to cope with the odd hiccough and even to sympathise with the person who has to sort it out.

But it’s unrealistic for utilities and services to kid us that they are perfect. Please, let’s have a sense of perspective. It would stop blood pressure from rising and prevent call centre staff from receiving calls from irate customers, if these companies had the courtesy to say in their advertising that they’ll do the best they can.

Who could ask for anything more?

Striking a courteous chord

When we started developing the concept of please and thanks, we had no idea whether or not it would capture people’s imaginations.

Does courtesy really matter in people’s lives? Isn’t it just an old-fashioned idea with no relevance to the 21st Century? Can it actually benefit business financially to be polite?

From the responses we’ve received in our first few weeks, we’re certain that courtesy is important.

Business coach, Gwynneth Hewetson – who urged us to nurture the seed of our idea – has been mentioning the site to her contacts, who have passed it on to colleagues, who have then passed it on to further contacts in other organisations.

The media are also keen to find out what we’re about and, while it is the silly season for stories at the beginning of a new year, we do hope the interest will be maintained, because in 2004 we aim for 366 days of courtesy.

Courtesy is not just another New Year’s resolution to be broken – it’s a way of life.

One of the other responses is to be asked whether we are, perhaps, more courteous than other people. The answer is that we try to be as courteous as we can and that there’s always room for us to improve.

Yesterday, a business contact was quick to point out that I had not sent a thank you email for a favour that he had done. I had not forgotten, but, as I was in the middle of arranging a house move and tearing my hair out at the time, I had not sent the thank you email as fast as I could have done. I apologised to him and he apologised to me for not realising why I hadn’t emailed him.

This shows how much people need to be appreciated, especially when they have put themselves out for you. We need to demonstrate this appreciation openly – not through wild gestures or group hugs – but in genuine expressions of gratitude.

And it isn’t always easy when we’re rushed off our feet, under pressure at work or have just been cut up by another motorist and are tempted to take revenge.

But taking the trouble to be polite is worth it, because is can calm us down and make other people feel that they are appreciated. It can eliminate a lot of stress from our lives and make us realise how much of our own energy we put into being stressed; energy better spent doing what we really want to do.

Anger in the workplace – eliminate it with courtesy

Eliminate anger in the workplace with courtesyWith daily news stories appearing in the media about the high levels of anger in the workplace, please and thanks is not surprised, but does believe that these add even more support to its belief that ‘courtesy boosts business’.

“What is the point of managers sending angry emails to employees and bullying them?” asks Robert Zarywacz, co-founder of www.pleaseandthanks.co.uk a free web site promoting courtesy in business launched on 4 January 2004.

“If you think that your employees are not performing well, why would you want to demolish their morale completely by getting angry with them? Even if it gets the immediate job done faster, it won’t get it done any better and overall productivity will plummet as employees become totally disillusioned.”

please and thanks aims to eliminate anger

The aim of please and thanks is to show that courtesy, as well as being the most considerate option for individuals, is actually the most productive approach for businesses.

If courtesy can help motivate employees, improve staff retention and increase productivity, why don’t directors and managers use it every day?

Bullying uses a lot of energy, so bullies are putting a lot of effort into damaging their business performance. Shareholders should ask companies with a reputation for bullying and rudeness why they are deliberately hindering improvements to business performance when a courteous approach could produce much better results – especially when it takes so little effort.

please and thanks free resources

Apart from encouraging courtesy in business, www.pleaseandthanks.co.uk provides free resources and downloadable prompts to help businesses work courteously.

“You don’t need expensive consultants to tell you what you already know – that people feel and work better when treated courteously,” continues Zarywacz. “Courtesy is free and it’s common sense.”

Yet please and thanks is in no way blasé about the challenge of promoting courtesy.

“Courtesy can be seen as a sign of weakness, because you aren’t taking every opportunity to get one over on your rivals, when actually it’s rudeness that is the real weakness, while courtesy demonstrates true strength.

“With so many people working under so much pressure and with blame culture prevalent in UK businesses, it can take a lot of courage to stand up to break the cycle of anger and blame. That’s why everyone must support each other.

But is courtesy worth it?

“Not only does courtesy make life and work more enoyable for everyone, it can boost business performance, so that it even makes shareholders happy.”

Courtesy is a way of life

It’s January and the time for New Year’s resolutions, but resolutions are only made to be broken.

Please and thanks is here all year long – for 366 days in 2004 – because it’s a way of life.

Some people think that common courtesy is old-fashioned and, especially in business, that threats and bullying get things done faster. But it’s clear that acting courteously is as necessary now as it has ever been and that courtesy boosts business.

Courtesy can eliminate the causes of stress with just a few words. Today many people are stressed, because they feel isolated – that no one else understands or can help with their problems. This disconnection from people around us is damaging, both to us as individuals and to the communities in which we live. We stop being effective, we lose our motivation and we drag other people down with us.

Yet a few words of recognition can literally change the whole world – not our physical environment, but the way we see who we are and everyone and everything around us. And if you think we’re exaggerating, try it and see.

Perhaps someone who works for you feels that you don’t recognise their efforts or a colleague feels you don’t take in what they say? Do people steer clear of you, because they think you’re grumpy, when what you really want is for someone to talk to? Do your customers feel your business is unapproachable, when actually your staff are too busy to take a few moments to talk to them?

Being polite is enjoyable . . .

Please and thanks is all about the difference between simply existing and enjoying every aspect of being alive; about enjoying your work, whether you’re in a factory, office or shop as an employee, manager or owner; about passing on your enthusiasm to people around you; and connecting with your community and environment, so that you always feel glad to be alive.

. . . and courtesy boosts business

What does this mean to business? Satisfied customers who enjoy buying from you; motivated staff who want to stay with you; happy suppliers who will put themselves out to work with you – in business terms, these equate to improved efficiency, lower staff turnover, higher customer retention and increased profits. If your business is not polite, your shareholders should be clamouring to know what this is costing your business – and their investment in it.

After all, courtesy costs nothing – it is genuinely free and incredibly potent.

So, apart from words, what is please and thanks courtesy boosts business 2004 all about?

Courtesy business initiative with support materials

Through the www.pleaseandthanks.co.uk web site – which is free to use – we aim to encourage the return of courtesy to UK business. As well as articles and discussions on why courtesy is important, businesses can use the please and thanks Courtesy Toolkit, full of ideas, suggestions, materials and prompt sheets. The toolkit will grow considerably over the coming months.

We also invite people – individuals, customers, employees or managers – to send in examples of courteous behaviour by businesses, which we will publish on this site. Remember, it’s not just courtesy to customers that matters – it’s between manager and employee, employee and employee, customer and employee, manager and manager; in fact, between everyone and everyone else.

With the resources of please and thanks at the command of UK businesses, there’s no excuse for rudeness.

Courtesy makes life better for everyone and for business, it can improve performance instantly.

So let’s ensure that courtesy boosts business in 2004.