Good manners still count in business

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Our parents drilled into our heads that saying “please” and “thank you” were not only part of everyday life, but were essential to operating a successful business. They are the basic ingredients of “good manners.”

For more than 30 years, our family owned and operated the garbage collection business for Walkerville, a small incorporated Montana city north of Butte. It was part-time operation, which required about eight hours a week.

In the early 1950s, our family posted a $100 bond and took it over. Previous owners thought it was too small to be profitable given the start-up costs. There were only 400 customers.

There was no government subsidy and the contract terms were simple: “Collect the garbage at a fair price, provide and maintain your own equipment, pay your workers, taxes and insurance, operate a safe business, and provide good service!”

Dad bought a 1937 Chevy grain truck with a dump and converted it into a garbage truck. Mom kept the books. While my father hauled the trash, my mother would park the car at the end of each city block while “us kids” went door-to-door collecting 75 cents per month. Her last words were make sure you say “please” and “thank you” with a smile.

When my brothers and I were old enough and had plenty of on-the-job training, we started collecting trash as well. Our marching orders were to be safe, be courteous, and, if we made a mess, clean it up!

Today, you have to wonder if good manners are a forgotten value. For example, if you go to a fast food restaurant, how many times do people say “please” or “thank you” as they hurry you along?

Fast food restaurants are just that. They rely on speed and accuracy because that is what customers want. Too often “good manners” are forgotten. Last year, I even had a counter worker at a well-known fast-food location greet me with, “What do ya want?” When I asked another if they still served a quarter-pounder because I couldn’t find it on the new menu board, the response was, “Yeah…it’s up there just read it!”

Thankfully, some companies started measuring good manners and a pleasant demeanor.

QSR is the quick-service restaurant’s magazine. Its annual “drive thru report” is a key success marker. Last year it found that Chick-fil-A employees were the most likely of the 15 chains to say “please” and “thank you,” and to smile at drive-thru customers.” They said “thank you” more than 95 percent of the time while KFC’s rate was 85 percent and McDonald’s checked in at 78 percent.

“It’s all about speed and accuracy, but we know our customers appreciate that we can be nice while being fast and accurate,” said Mark Moraitakis, Chick-fil-A’s senior director of hospitality and service design told QSR. “Eye contact and smiling go a long way in the drive-thru experience.”

Business Insider concludes: “While small pleasantries are easy to dismiss in a multi-billion restaurant business, these little things have played a key role in setting Chick-fil-A apart from the competition.”

In 2015, Chick-fil-A, whose stores are beginning to show up in the Northwest, generated more revenue per restaurant than that of any other fast food-chain in the nation. Its average sales per location reached nearly $4 million, which is four times more than the average KFC franchise.

The company, which requires its franchise owners to close on Sunday, Christmas and Thanksgiving, is now the nation’s eighth-largest quick service restaurant chain.

It is gratifying to know that good manners still count in business and to know that it’s as essential to success today as it was in the 1950s.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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