Recently I received an email from a Fortune China reader with an excellent question.
Essentially she told me:
“I feel deeply frustrated about the way our customers treat us…they always act as “Lords” and expect us to just be obedient servants. They act so high and mighty, are often rude, and say things like ‘we pay the money so you just have to do as we say.’ What can I do to change such relationships?”
This is a very common situation in a region where partners are more often referred to as “vendors” and is based on a very old model of business: the model where customer is Lord and service providers are seen as obedient servants, sometimes as slaves. As a young man I worked as an account executive in an advertising agency and experienced this model regularly.
I recall one client, a global company that were in the habit of snapping their fingers and making outrageous demands, on short notice and expect us to work miracles. We often did just that, never got so much as a thank you, but could expect verbal abuse if we made the slightest mistake or did not move as fast as they wanted us to. In fact, on my first day serving this client, when I arrived at their office, I was led outside by a janitor and told to sit on a bench and “wait here in case they need something.” It was clear that the previous agency had been trained to have someone sitting patiently on that bench at all times, waiting for the “Lords” to snap their fingers.
Of course I refused to accept this model and it was the beginning of a long process leading to being accepted as a partner, rather than a vendor. And, looking back, it was a great learning experience with lessons that I was able to apply many times during my 30 years as a consultant serving customers. Here I’m happy to share what I feel are the five most important things anyone can do to transform “Lords” into partners.
If You Act Like a Slave, Expect to be Treated Like One.If you put your customers on a high pedestal, go in bowing and scraping before them, living in fear of their every displeasure, you can expect to be treated like dirt. Why? Because your behavior conveys the message “I am nothing, just a lowly service provider, and you are the Lord with the money.” Perhaps you have seen others acting life peasants under their Lords, or even been told that “this is our fate, the only way we can survive.” If so, you have been given very bad advice.
The truth is, it is up to you to behave like someone worthy of respect and if you don’t, you won’t get much. People will pretty much treat you as you treat yourself. So, stop teaching people to disrespect you and start transforming the way you see yourself: get very clear that every person has exactly the same amount of self-worth, not more and not less. Your worth does not come from your title, your salary, or your experience. It is a gift you received at birth and it can never be diminished. Know that you have unique gifts that can make a difference for other people and hold your head up high.
“Who you are speaks so loudly…I can’t hear a word you’re saying.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson