Do You Really Disdain Your Clients?

spaghettiWe went to dinner last night with a group from our Pollyanna Principled Consulting Course.  During the day, we make sure the group’s creature comforts are met as best as possible, feeding them well.  Great breakfasts (yesterday a frittata) and great lunches (chicken with mango salsa) and great desserts (cheesecake yesterday).  Fresh fruit and pastries to snack on all day long.

So when we arrived at a favorite Italian restaurant for dinner, I wasn’t very hungry.  I ordered a dinner salad, a cup of soup, and a side order of spaghetti.

“I don’t think you can order just a side of spaghetti,” the waitress told me.  “I’ll have to ask my manager.”

And sure enough, she came back to tell me I could only order a full portion of spaghetti.

I turned to her and pointed to Tracey sitting next to me.  “Does a side of spaghetti come with her meal?”

The waitress explained, “She can get the choice of sides – she chose a salad.”

“She has changed her mind,” I told the waitress.  “She wants a side of spaghetti AND a salad.  She wants you to put the spaghetti on a separate plate.  And because she is my friend, I will treat her to the salad.”

The waitress looked confused for a moment.  This sounded suspiciously like my getting a side dish of spaghetti by bending the rules, paying for an extra salad instead of a plate of spaghetti!  After that split second of confusing, she said, “I think I can do that.”  And sure enough, she returned to say her manager had approved of my convoluted attempt to get what I wanted in the first place.

Oh my goodness!  How much did I have to manipulate their systems just to get a small dish of spaghetti?  And what do you want to bet the salad I wound up buying was several dollars cheaper than the side of spaghetti I was perfectly willing to pay for!

Now before you say, “Oh businesses can be so dumb that way,” consider how many rules your community organization has about its patrons and clients.

I once received the gift of a book that had been purchased at a  “nonprofit” / community benefit yoga center that sold books on the side to raise money.  I took many classes at the center, as they had a wonderful teacher of “yoga for back care”and because they had always shown a deep understanding of their mission of yoga as a means to more compassionate living.

I already owned the book my friend had given me, and so before my next class, I tried to return it.  The Executive Director looked as if I had said something offensive about her mother. “You can’t return that here without a receipt.”

After explaining the circumstances several times, and after my growing more and more impatient to take the class for which I was about to pay real money (a class I knew would have to work doubly hard to build calm and compassion after this altercation), the Executive Director finally told me she would make an exception – I could get a credit for another book.

“Can’t I use the credit towards my classes?”

Without a beat the E.D. told me, “You’re lucky I took the book back at all! What other bookstore would take a book back without a receipt?”

It never occurred to the E.D. that the yoga center was not Barnes & Noble, but was instead a place that received a tax exemption so it could make the community a more compassionate, calm, healthy place to live.  Having been treated like a disdained customer, rather than a respected compatriot towards the vision of a healthier community, I stopped attending the Yoga Center as soon as the classes were over.

As you encounter your clients and patrons and supporters, I urge you to consider that the highest possible potential of your work can only be reached if you see your clients and patrons as partners in creating a better world. They are not widgets you use to sustain your organization; they are the sole purpose you exist.

Whether you treat them with disdain or with reverence, you can bet you are making that clear to them with little things you may not even realize you are doing.

Like refusing to sell me a small plate of spaghetti.

(Photo credit: Rainer Zenz via Wikimedia Commons)

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