Never Underestimate The Value Of A Bottle Of Scotch

Last modified on August 13th, 2008

Wash, rinse, repeat – that’s my life these days. Wake up, work, code, sleep. I eat once and a while, although considering I had a bit of cream cheese at midnight and called it supper, I think I need some drastic improvements in that department.

My thermostat in my apartment shows 27C at 9am, which obviously makes it rather difficult to sleep. Actually, sleep in general is pretty difficult these days. I have a little bottle of Zopiclone that I keep around for special occasions, and even though it helps me sleep, it usually makes me a groggy mess in the morning. So in that department I am sort of screwed regardless of what I do.

Today’s post of the day is about ethics and their place is business. I’ve had this conversation with a few different people in the last few weeks, and it always surprises me what kind of responses I get. You see, I’ve always believed in working ethically. In fact, every time you see a little stainless steel ring on someone’s pinky finger, chances are they are an engineer that actually swore to uphold ethical practices. And while some people think it’s a dated practice, I think the meaning of that gesture is still as relevant today as it was when Rudyard Kipling first envisioned it.

I’ve always believed in a sort of “do the right thing” approach in business. That’s not to say I let people walk on me or abuse me, although having people attempt to exploit you comes with the territory. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a favour for someone, only to have that gesture come back much later in life along with a truck-load of dividends.

One of the other things I’ve always been against is hiring people to work for you without paying them. A lot of industries call these interns, and most places I’ve worked have had a few of them. And while it’s a cheap way to get work done, it just leaves a sour taste in my mouth, since I remember how hard it was making ends meet as a student. The concept of paying someone zero dollars to have them do a job that they would probably have an employee working on had the intern not been there just seems wrong somehow. Many people disagree with me there, but that’s where I stand.

One of my mentors growing up was my high school Business Education teacher. Brennen and I ended up getting to know him, mostly because we were so disruptive in class that we were forced to hang out afterwards as punishment. During that time, we somehow ended up all getting to know each other and ended up being friends. In fact, years later when I was at UBC and seriously thinking about leaving because I couldn’t afford to be there, he called me up and offered to give me whatever cash I needed to help me out. Not many people have stories like that about their high school teachers.

In addition to teaching business in school, that individual also moonlighted as a manager of the old Keg restaurant in Langley. One time he brought Brennen and I out while he was working and showed us how he worked. Something he told me at the time that has always stuck with me is the importance of not underestimating the value of a few free drinks. As an example, he said every night he worked at the Keg he would buy two random people drinks. Maybe it was a couple having some wine over a romantic dinner, or maybe it was two guys sitting at the bar watching the game. But whoever it was, he would simply walk up, comp them a few drinks, and spend a few minutes getting to know them.

You can’t really measure the value of a gesture like that, but that restaurant was always full, and most people in there knew that manager and always went out of their way to say hi to him. Given the amount of shoddy service these days in all sectors, I would think something like that would stick with a lot of people.

Another story that comes to mind is something my dad told me. My dad used to be an electrician, and worked with lots of trades people. One person he knew had worked their whole life at this one company, often working weekends and doing what he could to help the company out. Despite his positive attitude and the obvious positive effect he had on the business and their profitability, that company was quite content to pay him next to nothing, because really, that was the best way in their minds to maximize profit.

One day he was approached by another company and offered a pile more money, a truck, more benefits, and probably more responsibility in the new company. Upon receiving that tentative offer, he went to his current company and told them all about it. His current company immediately countered, offering him more money, a better truck, and all the other bells and whistles he wanted. They told him that he was so integral to their current business in fact that it would be extremely hard to replace him. At that point he asked then, “if I am so important here and you guys need me so much, why is it that you’ve been paying me peanuts for years and working me to the bone?” Of course, they didn’t have a response, and that employee was more than happy to leave. The thing is, it’s really hard to do the right thing retroactively, and in their case, the damage had already been done.

Another real-world story is about a prominent Electrical Engineering company in Burnaby that I once worked at for a few days. The management had built a really successful business and had brought on some of the best guys in the field. The company was rolling in the dough, and getting most of the best jobs that BC had to offer. Unfortunately though, the engineers doing all the work really didn’t see a lot of the money, which given the profitability of the business, just seemed wrong to all of them. So one day they approached the owner, explained the situation, and asked him for a few pieces of the pie. The owner refused.

Not long after, that owner arrived at work only to find that most of the people he had employed weren’t there. They had in fact left, and started their own engineering firm. Last I heard they were probably one of the best, if not the best, electrical engineering firms in BC, doing far more business than the one they left. That owner is probably sitting there wishing he would have shared some of his pie, which had long since gone cold.

Not everything in business is about dollars and cents. A lot of good business is about establishing and keeping relationships. Acquiring a new customer is a great deal of work, but by comparison, keeping an existing customer is fairly simple. So frankly, it’s just good business to treat people how they deserve to be treated. Any business that has a model that fundamentally relies on exploiting people or paying people far less than they are worth is flawed in my mind, and subject to future failure or repercussions. I’ve seen the end result of that time and time again, and it’s simply bad business.

12 responses to “Never Underestimate The Value Of A Bottle Of Scotch”

  1. Keira-Anne says:

    I could not agree with you more. I feel as though the “art” of good customer service has been lost, for the most part. I can cook well and buying a bottle of wine is easy enough, so when I go out to restaurant, it’s the experience and the service that I’m essentially paying for.

  2. Dale says:

    Extremely well said- and, having worked with you for awhile, I’m proud to have you as a partner. We may produce great products and offer great services, but it’s the way we work, and the way we treat our clients which will make all the difference, and has so far.

  3. Miranda says:

    Great post, Duane!

    There are so many stories similar to the ones you mention and as a business owner myself I always try to keep them in mind. I find one of the best things for me is to really think about the good and bad experiences that I have as a consumer and drill down what the fundamentals were so that I can mimic (or fix) those things in my own business.

    Keira-Anne’s comment about being able to make dinner quite nicely herself and thus dining out is essentially about the experience pretty much hits the nail on the head.

    Similar to the comp drinks story above, I rave constantly about my fav boutique hotel in Edmonton (as we travel there fairly regularly) – The Union Bank Inn. The prices are mid-high, the place is small so it can be hard to get a room, and there is limited parking. The rooms, staff, and food are really great but compared to many of the other hotels not SO exceptional that I’d go running there over the others. But there is one thing that they do that will have me talking about them and booking rooms there for a long time.

    When you book your room, they ask if you prefer red or white. And when you get to your room at the end of the day there is a glass of your preference in wine waiting for you along with a small plate of cheese, crackers, fruit, and a cookie.

    It probably costs them all of $5, but at the end of a long business day (most of their clients are business travellers) I can’t tell you how good that wine tastes. On top of that, it’s simple but it really makes me feel like they care about me and want me to be comfortable.

    Sure, I can go buy my own wine and probably stay in a cheaper hotel, but why would I? Those guys get my business every time, and it only costs them $5.


  4. Ciavarro says:

    Mmmmmmmm scotch.

  5. Gregg says:

    That piece of the pie thing struck home with me. I worked for a short while for a company whom I won’t detail publicly what they make, as it would identify them; but I will say that they are the only manufacturer of their product in BC and that the product is in every single building in BC. Anyone reading this has seen the product and it is sold for several times what it costs to make it. When I worked there 20 years ago, the business had sold $184 million in product over the previous year, and $124 million of that had been pure profit. The workers were paid just over minimum wage, and after you had been there 2 years you qualified for profit sharing that amounted to a few extra cents an hour. Much of the work was manual labour that could be taught to anyone; but the two owners could have afforded to double everyone’s salary and they still wouldn’t have been spend their money fast enough. Often the owners would bring in their fancy toys such as the most expensive motor homes available at the time in order to have the engineers custom modify them. When I was out picking orders, I had a sheet along with me that told me the cost of each item and the sales price. I’ve never resented an employer so much, and never missed a job less once I was gone.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Side note: Kipling spent a lot of time in Vancouver and owned property here

  7. […] yesterday, Duane wrote a blog post that touched down on customer service. I agreed with his points in that I feel as though it’s […]

  8. Raul says:

    Great post Duane.

    The biggest challenge I see is to identify the right and wrong, in many ways. Behaving ethically means having a good moral compass, and the question becomes – whose moral compass is the right one and is it pointing in the right direction always?

    I find that most times I can quickly figure out if someone is behaving unethically but I frequently want to know their viewpoint to see if they have any (apparently logical) reason to behave unethically. And then I learn more about the person.

  9. Donna says:

    Great post. Makes me think of a video we watched at work, regarding customer service. Ever heard of the “Give em the Pickle” video? Check this out… this guy is famous for this now, and it makes so much damn sense!

  10. Sarah-Renee says:

    Nice post Duane! I work in sales and it’s very hard to get around the stereotype that people have about salespeople in general. I truly do enjoy my industry and the job that I do. It’s hard to get people to understand that but I try to work around it and to prove to them that I really do care. It’s interesting that you mention the free drinks as I try to do something similar. Every day I allow myself a free watch battery, watch band sizing or even some small odd repair job that I can do in store. Sometimes I’ll do it more than once a day but don’t tell my boss that! The respect I gain is more than the $14.99 for the lifetime battery. I figure the harder I try to show my customers who I am and what I represent the more they are going to be loyal to me and my company. It’s all win win from there.

  11. Phaedra says:

    Go to Boneta!

  12. I wonder why people are so shy about naming the cheap / unethical employers?

    You obviously have strong opinions about them, you want to warn others about working there, and yet you’re helping the bad company along by not outing them.

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