Seldom does the core value of respect come to center stage in the corporate world as it did in a story I heard today.

The customer had a right to be very angry. The service they had contracted for was not delivered on time.

But how they responded was atrocious

Judy, the senior sales representative from the providing company was called in and told she had to fix the problem right away. No problem yet, we would all do something similar. What happened next was the height of disrespect.

The customer escorted her into an office, locked the door, gave her a phone and a glass of water and said “I am not letting you out of this room until you fix the problem.”

Fast forward. Judy’s first act was to call her boss, a senior vice-president for sales, to ask for his advice. Without hesitating he told her to inform the customer he would be there right away.

Half an hour later this sales executive was in a meeting room with the angry customer. The latter was as pleased as punch that he had managed to get someone at the head of the organization to come across town for a meeting so quickly.

But what happened next took to customer completely by surprise. The executive said,

Your anger at our not meeting contractual expectations is quite appropriate. But what is totally out of line is the way you treated my associate. I will not tolerate disrespect in any form. In my books human relationships are at the heart of business practice. I need you to apologize to Judy for the way you treated her.

After a period of uncomfortable silence the stunned customer stammered out an apology.

This story had a good ending. The customer service issue was resolved. It does not always turn out that way. Such a confrontation could lead to a loss of business.

However, the customer had a moral center that led to the apology.

What the executive told me was the clincher.

I was willing on principle to lose the account. Respect for people is central to our company and myself. If I have to choose between respect and profit, respect wins hands down”

Burning Questions

What is your view on how the executive responded to the customer?

How do you balance doing the right thing with doing well?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Respect

  1. MBA Trini says:

    The executive was absolutely right to approach this issue the way he did. There has to be a balance and what he did was very important as a precedent. If he had allowed the customer to continue in this way, the customer would have felt that it was totally appropriate to respond to others this way.

    Regarding question # 2, having a sense of right and wrong is a key part of one’s ability to balance doing the right thing and doing well. Ideally, it feels important to balance both with a slight positive bias toward doing the right thing. Doing the right thing usually results in doing well.

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes there is always a delicate balancing act between doing well and doing right. I would love to see any studies as to whether doing the right thing helps a corporation do well like the early Tylenol example. Usually companies ramp up their ethical drive when they have been busted for doing the wrong thing. Some unusual executives and companies habitually follow the ethical path that the person in my story did.

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