Posh or Penniless, You Never Know

Once upon a time, there was a very famous, very posh department store in London.  When you walked in through the ornate doors, you were welcomed with a hush of opulent splendour, the high ceilings and towering pillars being the perfect backdrop for beautiful displays of perfumes and cosmetics on the ground floor, with ladies and gentlemen’s clothes on the upper floors.  This store was well known for its quality merchandise, attention to detail, and wonderful service.

One day, a young woman was working behind the cosmetics counter just near to the main entrance on Piccadilly.  The revolving doors moved, and from them emerged a man who looked as if he belonged on the street.  His clothes were very scruffy, his beard and hair unkempt and he brought with him a general air of neglect.  But he strode through the cosmetics department and disappeared up the staircase.  The young woman was amazed – she was used to only seeing very smart, wealthy people enter this store.  She thought “he must be in the wrong place,” and promptly forgot all about him.

About two hours later, she was stopped in her tasks, stunned to see the same man walking back out the revolving doors.  Trimmed, clean, beard and hair, wearing a dapper suit and tie, carrying an overcoat and a couple of bags, it was obvious he had just spent some thousands of pounds. The young woman was shocked. Could it really be the same person? This incident taught her never to judge whether someone has money or not by what they look like.

That young woman was me, many years ago in my first job in Simpsons’ of Piccadilly.  I have never forgotten it, and I’ve done my best not to judge peoples’ spending capacity by what they look like, since then (not always successfully, I might add!).

However, I am sharing this story now because of an interaction I overheard the other day between a training consultant and someone who was obviously a prospective client.

“I know about the kind of services you offer to people, and it has interested me for a while now. I wonder can we talk about it a bit more?” said the prospective client, Tom.

“Well, you probably can’t afford me now” said Sheena, the consultant.  “I’ve really changed how I am working.  But of course I am happy to tell you more.”

On the surface, that may not appear too awful.  But below the surface, Sheena lost a client that day, simply due to her assumptions about what Tom could or could not pay.  In fact, Tom was insulted by Sheena’s remark, and never talked to her again about him using her services.

As a provider of services to others, never, never, never assume you know what someone can pay and what they can’t.  It simply does not work, as these two stories indicate.  Outer appearances certainly say something about a person, but it is not necessarily about how wealthy they are.

So watch out for your observations and judgments about your clients’ or customers’ ability to pay you. Those who appear to be able to pay easily may not be the ones who actually can, and vice versa. You never know who has a separate source of income, who has just received an inheritance, or who has another business deal coming to fruition.

All you need to do is simply monitor how you communicate about your fees, practicing until you feel you have embodied the amount you are charging, and feel fine about it, remembering that this can take practice. And the next time you see someone and catch yourself having a judgement about their relative financial wealth, remember the story of the apparent down and out in Simpsons, put your judgments firmly to one side, and remain with an open heart and mind.

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