When my father retired, his friends and family threw him a surprise party, where co-workers roasted him and paid tribute. One remark that each of his colleagues made was that my dad never failed to return a phone call, and how much they appreciated that. It clearly left an impression on them -- and on me. I've lived much of my professional life on the phone, first as a journalist and now as a PIO. I made a rule for myself then that I would never fail to return a phone call.
I thought of this recently, after experiencing the frustration of having phone calls made to a couple of businesses go unreturned. One, a flooring contractor, will never get my business, and it's unlikely I'll want to patronize the other, either. Now, I'll be the first to admit that my own rule about returning phone calls is often honored more in the breach than in the observance. So I try to remind myself that I ignore a phone call at my employer's peril, and my own.
Perhaps that advertising salesman failed to mention that he's an alumnus of the university where I work, and maybe the check he was about to send us will now go to his kid's private school, or maybe to his church. Perhaps that reporter who always seems to get things wrong just lined up a plum PR job for herself, and someday I may need to turn to her for a job. Maybe she'll have forgotten those voice mail messages left in vain. Or maybe she won't.
It goes back to what I wrote about my experience this summer at Kennywood. Everything your organization does impacts your reputation. Companies invest millions building their brands. Creating great products. Running clever ad campaigns. Generating key media placements. And yet they forget that each of their employees has the power to wreck it all -- simply by doing nothing.