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+
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.
Recent media attention on certain practices at some banks could lead us to think that no one in business shows any respect to others. However, we ought to remember that there are millions of businesses in the UK, of all types and sizes, and that many people in business do respect and show courtesy to others, even if it’s not worthy of media attention.
For example, several years ago I referred some business to an associate, who very kindly paid me a percentage for the referral. This weekend a letter popped through my door with another cheque in respect of repeat work from this referral. I had no idea and it was a pleasant surprise. What a gentleman!
Then there are business people who give their time generously as free mentors, pass on their tips and advice when you ask them a question about their specific field or offer you support during rough times. It is good to remember these when we are confronted with case after case of rogue traders and other dodgy dealers, all of whom makes entertaining television or reading but at the expense of their poor victims.
It is right to expect every business to abide by the law and for those that break it to be brought to justice. It is also right to recognise those who go beyond legal or other obligations to provide more than a purely commercial service and contribute more fully to communities.
“My word is my bond” still holds true for some people. Perhaps the media should highlight those businesses that serve as role models for all of us.
We’ve presented more businesses with their certificates and window stickers and updated the listings page of courteous businesses in Ilfracombe.
Apologies for taking so long but there’s so much happening in the town at present. However, it’s important to present these to businesses in person. It’s worth the wait.
Watch out for big news in June!
Following the courteous town initiative from October to December, we have now recognised more than 100 courteous businesses in Ilfracombe. This follows a burst of nominations from members of the public.
We’re hoping to get certificates and stickers out to all recognised businesses in the next few weeks and the list will be updated.
And watch out for more news as Ilfracombe receives further recognition!