Recently I was asked by a coworker to join her on a client visit to a high profile ad agency group. I jumped at the chance because I love speaking with clients, and we were booked to meet two very senior people, both at executive creative director level. We arrived on time (five minutes early actually, as is my wont) and waited in the trendy, borderline pretentiously creative reception. And we waited. And waited.
At ten past the meeting hour we asked the receptionist for an update. She looked a little confused. She made a call. She clearly got a disconcerting answer and then disappeared out of sight. We continued to wait. Eventually she came back and it was clear she had bad news. The creative duo had been 'called into a meeting'. She paused and then added (in what I could see was a moment of embarrassed inspiration), 'By the CEO.' We explained we had an appointment, confirmed the day before. She offered to call the HR manager, and she did, but that person was unavailable.
I could see she was the innocent party here and very uncomfortable, so I asked if we could have a two-minute chat with one of the ECDs to set up another time. She got even more flustered, and we left on the basis they would call to reset the meeting. Neither of them did. Ever. They never contacted us again. Not to apologise for wasting our time, not to reset the meeting. A meeting they had both firmly agreed to at the outset, verbally and via follow-up email.
Then, three weeks ago, I spent five days in Tokyo. On that trip I met with seven clients, all at CEO, marketing director or VP HR level. I was struck by the demeanor of these clients when it came to dealing with us, their supplier. Most were Japanese, but two of the people we visited were Westerners, living in Japan for some time. On each occasion, we were clearly expected and were greeted as honoured guests. The receptionist buzzed, and within a few moments a PA or assistant greeted us and showed us to a meeting room.
We were rarely left in the reception for more than a few minutes. Always, refreshments were offered. Water, tea and, many times, small cakes and biscuits as well. On not a single occasion did the person we were there to meet keep us waiting. CEO or not, the meeting with us started on time. The shortest meeting we had lasted an hour. Length of meeting does not dictate quality, of course, but it does mean that your presence there is taken seriously and that time has been allocated. To cap it off, I was struck by one final act of good old-fashioned manners. At the conclusion of every meeting, the senior person saw us not only to the door, not only to reception, but actually walked us to the lift and waited until it arrived. They then shook hands, thanked us for our time, pressed 'ground floor' for us, and waited until the door closed.
Compare this to our super-cool ECDs in Sydney who stood us up without a second thought or even the courtesy of coming to reception to tell us why. It's amazing the effect this all had on me. I now remember each person I met on that trip vividly (I do about a hundred client visits a year, plus many events, so that's not always true!), I feel a high level of commitment to these clients in terms of filling their needs, and I follow up with the local office, even now, to check on progress. And, truthfully, I felt a little better about myself and what we do for a living. And it got me thinking. Being 'the client' does not make you special. Being special is what makes you special. I like to think I treat my suppliers with respect.
But this lesson from Japan made sure I will give it extra thought from now on. In a position of 'power' or not, being rude is being rude. And being a jerk is just, well, being a jerk. This post originally appeared on The Savage Truth.