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May 2002
Success Harmony Newsletter

"THE $400,000 PHONE CALL"

What is the value of a phone call? According to someone I spoke to recently, the value of a phone call was $400,000.

He operates a shipping company and needs to use courier services, to the tune of $400,000 per year to the courier company. Last year, after using one company for a number of years, the courier company overcharged (by mistake) by about $1000. The shipping company's owner placed a phone call to the account manager at the courier company - which did not get returned for over 10 days, despite repeated follow-up messages from the shipping company. The account representative simply didn't want to face the discomfort of dealing with situation, so she waited and waited - until it was too late. The shipping company pulled the plug and the entire $400,000 revenue per year was gone - into the pockets of a competitor. Just like that. Gone. Too late for apologies.

As is often the case in business, the value and the cost of something are often very, very different. The cost is in the eyes of the sender, the value is in what is gained as a result of a transaction happening - or lost when it fails. In the above case, the "cost" to the account representative was the apology needed and the time required to clear up the mistake. Grand total required? Maybe one hour. The value to the shipping company, however, was the trust they placed in the courier company and the entire shipping account. If the courier company didn't deliver now, could they deliver in the future? If they couldn't deal with a small mistake now, could they deal with a big one down the road? "Don't know" quickly becomes "no". One phone call left too long ended up in $400,000 in lost value.

How do we know what is valuable and what is not? We can ask, and we can observe. Both will work. When we get the second or third message asking for a return call, it shouldn't take a lot to realize the call is very important. If someone says, "it's very important to me", it probably is.

Everyone has at least one customer who has the power to "pull the plug" and who has a say in what is judged as valuable and what is not. Most of us have more than one such "customer". If you are employed, your boss is the customer whose value perceptions you need to pay attention to a lot. Your boss has a boss, too - it could be the shareholders, the media, the CEO, business partners, clients or consumers of your company's products. Most likely, all of them count. Having a stellar reputation is not about sucking up to people - it IS about treating people as valuable - and that cannot but come back to you.

Here are just a few tips for a superb reputation:

  • Return all calls and messages within a day or two.
  • Prioritize as you need to, but use the "ignore" option on your voicemail at your peril. You never know if the pesky salesman who left four messages for you may one day end up being your boss (or your father-in-law)! Politely decline, but don't ignore.
  • Show up on time, or even early.
  • Return what you borrow - without needing to be asked once.
  • Pay all your bills promptly. If you need to fall behind for any reason, communicate with the vendor and set up a payment plan.
  • Apologize when you cause a mess - big or small. Make sure the apology is genuine (remember being forced to say "I'm sorry as a child", when everyone knew you didn't mean it?)
  • Acknowledge and recognize people whenever possible. Don't restrict yourself to acknowledging "just the important people". Mailing a "thank you" card to your doctor or to your boss' assistant will be unexpected and you may get bonus reputation points from all sorts of places.
  • Go beyond "it isn't my job", whenever possible. There is no need to become a martyr, but a simple "let me staple that for you" offer carries a lot of weight but costs nothing extra to do.


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"You meet the same people on your way down as you meet on your way up."
Jack Nicklaus, quoting his father's advice to him

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation, and only 5 minutes to ruin it."
Warren Buffett

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
Henry David Thoreau

"I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me."

Fred Allen




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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada