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I’m going to toss out a theory and see if it sticks: How you treat service personnel directly reflects your ability to connect effectively, positively, and memorably in your other interactions, including those that take place in networking settings.

Sound crazy?  Maybe. Maybe not.

In my book The Intentional Networker™ I tell the story of how Zappos, a company known for its stellar customer service, initially gauges any job applicant’s hireability. It’s as simple as this: how did you treat their shuttle driver?  If you were friendly and courteous, you move forward in the hiring process. If not, you’re done.

In short, Zappos wants to know how you treat people. Not just customers, but everyone.

In her new book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown has a similar message. She expresses her concerns about how disrespectful we can be to service personnel, including the wait staff in restaurants, the person who takes your order at the drive-through, the counter clerk who handles your dry cleaning order, or even the person who does your nails or shines your shoes. (And take note: if you’re the person who is on your cell phone as you interact with customer service personnel, this is a huge and rampant form of disrespect.)

Think about it. How DO you treat the hardworking people who are there to make your life better?  Do you treat them as equals – or even as fellow inhabitants of planet earth?  Or do you see yourself as better then them? Or worse, do you pretend they hardly exist?  How about this:  Can you honestly say you remember anything at all about the service person you last interacted with?  (I do, I just had a great conversation with Gloria who handles my dry cleaning. I wouldn’t think of picking up or dropping off my dry cleaning without asking her how she was doing.)

So often we are busy talking on our cell phones, perusing the menu, fumbling with our packages, purses, and wallets. We fail to acknowledge the person’s presence, let alone make eye contact, extend a greeting, or call them by name.

Yesterday I said “Good morning” to the woman who was mopping the floor at the gym and asked her how she was.  She gave me a huge smile and responded to me as if no one had cared enough to ask her that. Ever.  On one level it made my day. On another it made me incredkbly sad.  My friend Leslie had a similar experience with a customer service clerk. She smiled and offered a compliment. It brought tears to the woman’s eyes, she was so moved that someone bothered to notice something positive about her.

As Dr. Brown says, “Everyone wants to know why customer service has gone to hell in a handbasket. I want to know why customer behavior has gone to hell in a handbasket.”

My point here: your behavior and courtesy as a customer can say so much about how well (or badly) you treat people in general.   Be careless and aloof with those everyday interactions and I’m predicting you could have similar issues in your other interactions and relationships as well.  And that includes networking settings.

Coincidentally, I am currently reading Aspire by Kevin Hall, which is about the power of words. Another great book. In the first chapter Hall writes about the word Genshai (pronounced GEN-shy), which basically means the practice of never making anyone feel small.  Are you practicing Genshai?

That said, I challenge you (and myself) to try these tips. Better yet, vow to make them practices in your daily life. I promise if you do it will improve how people in all situations respond to you.

  1. Remember that every human with whom you interact is indeed a fellow human – and we all matter.
  2. Ditch the notion that you’re “above” or more important than anyone else.
  3. Put your cell phone away when interacting with others. That call or text is likely not that important.
  4. Smile, greet, and call people by name, when possible.
  5. Make eye contact; really see the person.
  6. Employ simple courtesies such as “please” and “thank you.”
  7. Show appreciation for a job well done, even if it’s what you expect and pay for.
  8. Cut others a little slack when mistakes occur. No one is perfect. Stuff happens. Most of the time errors can be corrected.

What would you add to this list? What are your experiences or observations with how we treat customer service people and how it relates to networking and relationships?