When a word is worth $1,000 (each)

ArethaIt’s been quite a week for disrespect. And it’s only Thursday.

Half of my incidents have been business-to-business situations. The other half occurred in places where I was just a consumer.

Looking back, I’m really sort of amazed by two things: First, how visceral the feeling is when I feel as though I’ve been disrespected, and second, how easy it would be to avoid.

Let me be clear about a definition here: disrespect is in the eye of the beholder. It occurs when someone feels slighted, or demeaned, or undervalued or lied to. There is no absolute measurement, and, because it’s relative, people will surely disagree about whether or not it has occurred at all.

Doesn’t matter. If you feel disrespected, then you were.

#1. Just spent two hours at the doctor’s office. An entire hour was spent in a little room, waiting. No updates, no apologies, nothing. Even after the doctor finally arrived, for him it was as though the long long wait didn’t even happen. Then, when I nicely asked to talk to the office manager on my way out, she took a phone call instead.

#2. I spent nine months negotiating a deal with a company where I’ve had a long and fruitful relationship. This project was going very, very slowly, and not because I was slowing it down. I’d been patient and flexible and was working it through the system. Two days ago, I got an email. It said, in its entirety, "Unfortunately, this is getting way too complex and not worth the effort for either of us. I know that we keep trying to make this work (for months now!) but it’s not working for either side.  So, I think we should let this go and part friends."

There have been four others, just like this. I realized what they all had in common:

All the other person had to do was use a one or two sentences and the whole thing would have been fine. Almost all the instances of disrespect didn’t have to do with the substance of the transaction, it was the style of it. If the person had accepted some responsibility and acknowledged how I might feel, the outcome wasn’t really a big deal.

"I’m really sorry you had to wait. Mr. Wilson’s eardrum exploded and we’re doing everything we can to help him."

"I know you worked long and hard to make this deal work, but we just can’t figure it out. I’m so sorry we wasted your time."

It’s really simple: most of the time, most of your customers will cut you slack if you just acknowledge that the outcome isn’t the one they (think they) deserve.

People have a hard time with this. If someone feels as though they’re treating you technically correctly, they don’t want to apologize. They don’t want to acknowledge the feelings of the other side. This is awfully short-sighted. These are words that are worth thousands and thousands of dollars in lost sales and word of mouth.

"You must feel terrible about what happened. I know I do. If there were any way I could figure out how to make this better for you, I’d do it." When isn’t that a true statement when you’re dealing with an unhappy customer?