The Cheapest Business Success Secret


Article by: Karl Walinskas

Yesterday I had to ship a compact disc changer for my car back to the manufacturer for repair. I took the goods to a little outfit called MailBoxes, Etc. I’ve used them before; a decent outfit. Well, one girl behind the counter rang me up while the other packaged the unit. They couldn’t use my box because of UPS regulations--no problem. The bill was $12.93. I had some change I wanted to evacuate from my pockets so I gave the clerk $13.03, with the last dollar in quarters. If you’ve ever overpaid with an oddball amount of change in order to avoid getting back pennies, you probably know how this can short-circuit the brain of the average sales clerk. Kaboom! Anyway, she took the moolah and didn’t give me back my dime, which of course I asked for so the store’s books would balance, you see.

"You don’t get any change. In fact, you came up ten cents short, but I figured I’d cut you a break."

"With all due respect Miss, I gave you $13.03--a ten spot, two singles, four quarters, and three little pennies."

"No you didn’t. You gave me three quarters and a dime."

Quickly engaging the steel-trap mathematical section of my mind, I realized that her scenario would have left me five cents short, not the ten that she originally said. Besides, I still had two nickels in my pocket. If I’d had a dime, I could have given exact change, for Pete’s sake! Well, it wasn’t worth arguing over even though I was upset over the principal of the thing, so I told her to forget it. The clerk proceeded to one-up me by opening the cash drawer and giving me the dime with a disgusted look on her face as if I was the jerk here. I left the store saying thanks for all the help and received no reply from either employee.

This little experience left me talking to myself (yelling is more like it) for the next fifteen minutes. How dare she treat a customer like that? Readers, you know I was right of course, but even if I was wrong, are clerks today trained to argue with a customer over ten cents, or less than one tenth of one percent of the total bill? Whatever happened to "the customer is always right" and "king customer"? This experience was unpleasant for me, so no more business to that store in the future. I like to be treated right, whether it’s at work, the store, or at home.

Here comes the cheap little secret. I’ll remind you it’s not new. About two thousand years ago, some guy had this saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He was a pretty popular guy at the time, until some other guys got jealous and found a way to get rid of him in a nasty way. That point of wisdom has stood the test of time--you may have heard it. Let’s go even further back. What about, "You’ll catch more flies with honey than you will with vinegar." Since only little boys still catch flies with the macabre desire to pluck their wings off, I bet that quote comes from Aristotle or some other thinker from B.C., when flies had some nutritional or medicinal value. Point simplified: treat people nice and they’ll treat you nice back. It’s contagious! Humans can’t help it. Hello--business people--interpret nice as customers giving you money.

My experience has been that too many people are upset these days to treat others nice. Life is tough, we’re all too busy, and we have to prove our superiority to others continually. Good Lord, we can’t ever eat a slice of humble pie, can we? Being courteous and pleasant is part of a sound communications success plan.

Same day as the shipping story, I’m leaving a public parking lot across from the YMCA. There’s a short line of cars to pay the gal at the gate that I need to make a left turn into. Some dude in the line sees me but pretends he doesn’t, pulling and stopping directly in front of me so I can’t get in. Has that one ever happened to you? Three other people do the same thing until a little old lady lets me in. "Thank you! Thank you! You’re a life-saver" I said using hand signals.

If you think that this month’s column is condescending for it’s own sake and has nothing to do with your business, think again. Example: one company that I’ve used in three different states for my tires and basic car service is Goodyear. In my experience, Goodyear teaches their franchisees how to treat people. You feel like a friend, not some schmuck off the street who has the honor to give the repairman your hard-earned cash. In Kingston, PA, my friend Tom Tranguch owns T&F Tire, a Goodyear retailer. Same story, different town. I know all the sales gang and half the mechanics on a first name basis. They make it a point to know me too, and my wife, and my dog’s name, and my likes and dislikes. They go out of their way to service my car on a spur-of-the-moment basis. I feel like king customer again. T&F Tire isn’t the cheapest place I can go to take my car for service, but for me, they’re the best. Tommy even ate several hundred dollars in labor trying to fix an electrical problem on my truck because he thought his guys should have had it done in a half hour. I’ve happily given them several thousand dollars worth of business in the last five years and referred others to them. Now they’re busy, frantic trying to serve customers, and have bad days just like the rest of us, but their lot is always full. Why do you think that is?

Folks, we all know that common courtesy and decency should govern our behavior all the time, but sometimes life takes over and--well--you know. We all put our pants on one leg at a time, we all have problems, and we all like to be treated with respect and have a pleasant experience every time we interact with others. We just have to remember it, even when our egos, personal difficulties, or the weather make us feel otherwise. Hold the door for someone today. Really mean it when you greet someone with, "How’s it going?" Catch one of your employees doing something right and say thanks. Treat your customers today like you recognize that they’re the lifeblood of your business; they are.

Here comes the best part. Courtesy, decency, and smiles are free. If you get anything in return for them that means that your return on investment is like--billions! I told you that you probably wouldn’t learn anything new here today. Let this little vignette serve as a gentle reminder of those words of that famous teacher whose life we base our calendar. Treat other people the way you want to be treated and you can’t help but succeed in communication and in life.

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Karl Walinskas is a professional engineer, speaker and freelance writer in Pennsylvania who owns and operates a communications development company called The Speaking Connection ( He is a frequent contributor to business publications across the country. He can be reached for questions or suggestions at 570-675-8956 or by email at

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