Chivalry, a medieval invention that raised "good manners" to an art form, has made a surprising comeback during the aftermath of the Twin Towers disaster. Reborn chivalry is no return to gallant courtliness and chauvinism, but it is certainly a refreshing re-examination of the civil virtues of courtesy within the framework of doing business.
There is a noticeable change wafting in the air of commerce, and it is long overdue. Once taken for granted and seldom overdone, the gracious temperaments of courtesy and politeness are once again taking hold of the way people do business. They have made the experience of buying and selling more considerate and less strident. Civility has replaced rancor. Business etiquette is once more in vogue as an antidote to the callous and caustic "me first" demeanor of many employers and employees alike.
Perhaps due to the tragedies of last September, many companies have adjusted their priorities to include a new emphasis on the caring and compassionate side of the business transaction. Ratcheting up the congenial and affable decibels has certainly made a difference for many companies that are treading water in a slowing economy. On the other hand, those companies that have ratcheted down their workforce may not only have slashed their departments and teams but also may have seriously eroded their customer confidence base. When the customer waits interminably for service, looks frantically for a smile, or notices a curtailment or derailment of the "common courtesies" once taken for granted, the customer will begin a search for another venue that will supply these once cherished values. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
It doesn't take a King John at Runnymede to figure out that the sharing of power reaches right down to the customer base. Many customers are even willing to pay a premium for good service, and business owners who recognize this can prosper in dire times by catering to a customer's desire to be treated with dignity, respect and appreciation. Empowerment is what it's all about in today's uncertain market.
A new Magna Carta is needed not only to stimulate the economy but also to re-invigorate the customer-company relationship. Unfocused and ill-defined stopgap measures will only serve as a temporary alleviation of a much deeper economic problem. Common courtesy is the linchpin of sustained customer service and retention. Once instilled in the workforce and monitored by managers, even the most egregious economic scenario would be hard pressed to threaten the bottom line. It is cost effective to implement a renewed Courtesy Carta!
Too often, in the aftermath of tragedy or downsizing, companies rest on their laurels, hoping that better times are right around the corner of a rejuvenated economy. But all too often the wait for a jump-start is the kiss of death, and customers will not stick around for the funeral.