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The Golden Rule Pays Off

Diana Vollmer |

The other day, I was visiting a drycleaning plant when a maintenance man arrived to fix a dryer. The drycleaner snapped at him, saying something like, “Sure took you long enough to get here.” Then he mumbled something about not being able to get good service anymore.
The incident made me think about my experience in dealing with service personnel. In my sideline business as an H&R Block tax preparer, Robert, the company’s computer-repair person, and I have become friends.
When we met five years ago, I found out that Robert was retired, and that computer repair is a second career he does only three-and-a-half months out of every year. I also found out that he and his wife share a favorite hobby, traveling, that they pursue together much of the rest of the year.
Whenever we would bump into each other over the years, I would ask him about his vacations. Once, he got sick and I sent him a get-well card. More recently, he started calling me by an affectionate nickname, and I came up with one for him.
Last year on a busy Saturday morning, my computer system went down. I called Robert and told him about it. He said he was working on a problem at another office, but he would drop it and come right down. Ten minutes later, he was there; five minutes after that, the system was back online.
How much of that quick response was due to the good relationship I’ve maintained with Robert over the years? I guess I’ll never know, but judging from other businesses’ complaints, I’m guessing that he went out of his way to help me. “Our system was down for an hour-and-a-half before they got there,” I’ve heard. “A computer crash is always a nightmare. Our tech staff is terrible.”
My point? It’s the Golden Rule: Treat everyone you deal with as you would like to be treated yourself. Realize that everyone is a human being, has a life and would appreciate if others would take an interest in it.
Kid around with the guy who fixes your drycleaning equipment. Greet the mailman with an occasional witticism. Inquire after your deliveryman’s family. Congratulate your accountant’s secretary on the birth of her child.
Do it because it makes them happy, and do it because it enriches your life, too. It broadens your outlook and gives you something to think about other than your own concerns. These people may be interested in what you’re doing, too — and may be able to help you out in ways you’ve never even considered.
Am I trying to tell you how to live your life? Maybe I am. You’re in business to make money, but you spend 40, 50 or 60 hours a week at your business, and want to pass the time as pleasantly as possible. Being a decent, caring human being can help. And isn’t that the real bottom line?
Too many people are too self-absorbed. CEOs are too driven by their business plans and profit-and-loss statements. Drycleaners are too focused on earning money or wrangling staffers. Even in leisure-time activities, people often get so wrapped up in what they’re doing as to lose some of the enjoyment in doing it. Living is the key.
Make sure you make enough to pay the bills, support yourself and have a little bit left over to put back into the business. But stop and smell the flowers; enjoy the small talk. And try to connect with some of the people who regularly cross your path.
I’m not preaching an antibusiness gospel — after all, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, right? But I am calling on you (or many among us) to chill out. You’re a human being first, and a drycleaner second.
By being attentive to your fellow humans, you’ll get better results. You’ll do better as a business and as a person. Your path will be easier, and your burdens will be light. And if you can act like a mensch, maybe the repairman will drop everything in order to help you out.
 

About the author

Diana Vollmer

Methods for Management (MFM) Inc.

Managing Director

Diana Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management (MFM) Inc., a consultancy specializing in drycleaning businesses. You may contact her at dvollmer@mfmi.com, 415-577-6544.

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