Unreturned phone calls, missed appointments, over-promising and under-delivering... it’s time to fight back and set an example. Unreliability is endemic in today’s business world.
I simply can’t believe how inefficient and unreliable people have become. It’s not just when I’m trying to sell something to someone, when it’s possible they are just ignoring me, but it’s prevalent even in day-to-day discourse, or while working on a project.
Being reliable has gone out of fashion; it used to be a virtue, but these days it’s accepted that few people will actually deliver what they say they will, by when they agreed. Getting a reply from an e-mail you send is no longer guaranteed; leaving a message on someone’s voice-mail is often like speaking into a black hole. Everybody is so busy that many no longer possess the basic good manners and business etiquette that underlie being reliable—and demonstrate integrity.
But others’ shortcomings can be your opportunity: when you make a point out of being exceptionally reliable, you stand out from the crowd, and isn’t that what you want in this highly competitive world?
How does rampant unreliability show itself (and are you guilty—even a little)?
If you email someone, do they answer in a reasonable amount of time? I’d bet you have to wait several days for a reply from around 50% of the people to whom you send messages, and a good 25% don’t have the decency to reply at all (at least not to your first message).
Then, to make matters worse, how many people actually answer your message completely? This is one of the banes of my life as it is so annoying, and such a time waster, to have to go back and forth to get the answers to everything that was clearly outlined in the original message, if they had only bothered to read it properly in the first place.
Why is it that people can’t return calls? How often must you call someone back after leaving a message? Once, twice, maybe three times? Do you start playing the game of calling them at different times of the day in the hope of catching them in? Unless the person is actively trying to get a hold of me, more often than not I have to leave three messages and call them again two to three times to try to catch them in.
Think about it in terms of time wasted: each time you think about calling someone, you waste three minutes considering the call and finding their number, then about three minutes actually making the call, and another three minutes to get your focus back on what you were doing. That’s nine minutes. Now, if you do that for just five people a week, you will have wasted 39 hours per year. Double that, and then some, if you’re doing the same with e-mails, and you lose at least two weeks of your valuable time a year because of other people’s unreliability.
Do people regularly show up on time for their appointments with you, or at all? I bet not. Recently several people changed an appointment with me multiple times; this gives an impression that I’m either being bumped by someone more important, or they can’t organize their schedule effectively.
One of my favourites was the time I turned up on time, after having the appointment confirmed by the person’s assistant that very morning, only to wait 45 minutes and then be rushed through so the person wasn’t late for their next appointment.
People are so surprised when someone delivers on time; it would appear that the majority of people have to be chased or hassled to deliver at all, let alone by the agreed deadline.
Another infuriating unreliable trait is over-promising and under-delivering — this is a case of someone causing and exacerbating their own unreliability.
NOT DOING WHAT YOU ASK
People don’t read instructions anymore, and I’m not talking about the weird diagrams and tortured English you get when you buy flat-pack furniture.
Whether it’s a staff member, a contractor, or employee, chances are they’ll skim read — at best — what you want and then deliver a half-completed job.
MAKE YOURSELF RELIABLE
Take a moment and consider how reliable you are — personally and corporately. Every time you let someone down by not delivering, or not replying within a reasonable time, you chip away at your reputation. Many individuals in the business world are just impossible to get a hold of, don’t return calls, and don’t deliver.
It’s a wonder they’re still in business, but our expectations have sunk so low that we just accept it.
I build reliability into organizational culture: our company ensures that all emails and phone calls are returned within 24 hours. In reality, we achieve this within two hours 90 per cent of the time — even if someone is trying to sell us something (excluding automated telesales calls — they are pure evil!).
More to the point, we make reliability a unique selling proposition and market it to our clients and prospects, who, in turn, tell us it’s a breath of fresh air. Recently, we were given a tight deadline to write and design three new ebooks — 42,000 words in less than four weeks — solely because the client knew we would deliver and not let them down. Afterward, they recommended us for another major writing job with an affiliated organization, a contract we subsequently won.
When delivering on time and doing what was agreed upon becomes “a breath of fresh air,” then something’s seriously wrong. We’ve become accustomed to, and even accepted, unreliability as a normative business practice. That’s because we’re all guilty of it to some degree.
We need to start improving our own reliability and expect it of those we work with. If we don’t, this spiraling inefficiency will affect all our bottom lines.
Written by Mike Wicks for Douglas Magazine.