Corporate Manners

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One thing I've learned in the last few years is that there are four different types of people you run into in the business world - and therefore, four different types of companies that you can do business with or work for:

1) Those who talk a good game but are essentially full of crap.

2) Those who don't have the huevos to either say yes or no without dragging things out for six months.

3) Those who don't bother to be polite unless it serves their immediate interests.

4) Those who strive to always give you a straight answer and deliver on their promises.

It's been such an interesting education on so many levels... You have no idea.

Like the company that fixed my windshield in twenty minutes flat yesterday: palmetto Auto Glass. These guys find you when you have a cracked windshield (it's uncanny), schedule an appointment, and in a day or two, send a crew to your workplace or home. They call you on the phone to confirm the appointment, and again later to tell you they're on their way. When they get to your car, they're fast, professional, courteous, and 100% competent. (And oh, in SC, they're free.) Even if the service had been average, the way the whole experience was so top notch that I would have still been impressed. The thing is, these guys are so good at it that they blew me away. That's saying something. From the first hello to the final goodbye, everything was absolutely perfect.

Same with Carolina Triathlon. Same with Go Magazine. Same with Cox photography. Same with Tenth Planet. Same with Orange Coat. Those all fit in that last category: You call, you meet, you talk, you get an answer. There's no posturing. There's no bullshizzle. If anything, there's real dialogue... You know... the kind with actual direction.

None of these people overpromise. If anything, they err on the side of overdelivering.

Even if you can't work something out with them right there and then, you want to stay in touch because you know that someday, you'll need their services, or they'll need yours, and you can't wait for that day to come. When you can work something out right away, they deliver like nobody's business.

These are companies that you are excited to recommend to friends and peers. I'm not kidding.
And as fate would have it, they're the very best in their respective industries. We're talking pinnacle here. Summit. Apex. None better.

Ask their competitors, and they might scoff, but I guess one man's reality is another man's denial. From where I stand - with a clear view of both the forest and the trees - there's no question who rules the coop.

Size doesn't always matter.

Now... I'll spare you commentary on the first two categories, but I feel compelled to touch on the third for a minute because it's a HUGE peeve of mine. Okay... ready? Here we go...

There's no excuse for being dismissive or even rude with anyone.



(And yes, ignoring people is rude.)

To illustrate my point, let me tap into my feminine side a bit here: Remember that scene in "Pretty Woman" in which Julia Roberts goes to a posh store on Rodeo Dr. to get herself some clothes? Because she doesn't look like a "qualified" customer, she is rudely shooed out of a store. She returns later - well dressed this time - and gets the royal treatment from the same lousy salespeople who were so rude to her before. She lets them do their song and dance and then gives them the scoop: She had gazillions of dollars to spend on clothes, but she went ahead and took her money elsewhere.

Well, there's a big lesson in that: Never, ever, ever treat anyone poorly. Don't ever be dismissive or rude. Don't ever blow anyone off. Ever.

See, that kid you blew off ten years ago, he might be CMO of your biggest potential client today. Guess where he won't take his company's budget. That's right. Just because you didn't return any of his phone calls after he sent you a resume.

Or that little old lady you ignored last weekend when she came into your car dealership? Too bad you didn't know that her millionaire son is looking to buy a half dozen trucks for his new landscaping business.

Or the tired looking woman you gave the cold shoulder to a month ago? That's right. Two years from now, she'll be VP of event marketing for a company who will book 400 beds between February and May every year, but none at your hotel. Ever. Because you blew her off.

When someone contacts you, even if you don't see the point, even if time is limited, reach back. It takes forty-five seconds to dial a number and leave a message on someone's voicemail. It takes half as long to send a form email.

I know... I know... "But Olivier, we get sooooooo many calls and emails every day. It's impossible to reply to them all."


This is the click & paste era. Stamps and paper are obsolete. Emails are easy. You click reply. You send a form letter saying "hey, thanks for contacting us but we're all booked up right now and won't be able to get to your problem/suggestion/question until later this year. We're sorry if that isn't what you wanted to hear, but we didn't want to keep you hanging for weeks waiting for an answer."

You write it once. You make it a template. You reply to every email you can't answer personally. Done. We're talking five minutes per day, tops. If you assign it to a staffer or an intern, it takes you zero time.

It's polite and professional. It's an absolute minimum. Period.

You might not think so now, but people will appreciate it x 1,000.

They'll even respect you for it. Why? Because, like me, they can respect an honest no. A flimsy or insincere maybe, however... sucks.

With the exception of form letters and mass mailings, answer every written introduction. Every resume. Every proposal letter. Return calls too. Even if it takes a week to clear ten minutes in your schedule, do it. Or assign someone else to do it for you.

Think of it this way: When someone says hello on the street, when someone introduces themselves to you at a party and goes to shake your hand, you don't ignore them. You don't turn around and walk away. This is the same thing.

Either you're polite, or you aren't. Either you're professional, or you aren't. Either you're the type of company that makes me want to work with you or do business with you, or you aren't.

If the hangup is that you just don't like saying no or giving people bad news, get over it. Give people a straight answer when they ask for one.

A no disguised as a maybe is just a pain in the schedule, to put it mildly. It's an enormous waste of time for everyone.

A maybe makes youre clients/customers/potential hires call back again and again, for absolutely no reason.

So here's a tip: If you know that something isn't going to happen, do what Nancy would do: Just say no. Okay? Stop wasting people's time, and politely give them the scoop: "No, we don't have it in stock. No, we won't write you a check for $200M. No, we don't want to hire you. No, we can't fit you in our schedule today."

Don't drag things out. It's rude, it's unprofessional, it undermines your credibility, and ultimately, it makes you look like an ass.

Before you focus on cool digs, catchy names and fun advertising, make sure to give some thought to how you want to treat people. All people. The pizza delivery guy. The intern next door. The waitress across the street. The next salesperson who walks through your door.


Think about it. Chances are, you could be doing a lot better on that front.

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