The ROI of Being Nice

\"be_nice\"I’ve milked this series of financial lessons from my HVAC for all it’s worth, but I thought it’d be particularly appropriate to end it this week with a short lesson on being nice.

I had thought about a titillating post on the pros & cons of cheap versus expensive HVAC systems (e.g., SEER 14 versus 20), but then I realized the main lesson had already been covered. Go with the simpler (and therefore cheaper) solution. I’ve never been able to produce a positive ROI on a crazily expensive system, and that’s before I factor in its greater complexity and the things that can go wrong.

I also thought about a post on the simple power of googling for information and education, with an excellent example of how I saved a thermostat that a tech thought was dead. The only problem is the post would pretty much be the last sentence I just wrote. Focused searches on super specific topics are the wheelhouse of the internet (sorry Facebook), and I never cease to be amazed at the universe of knowledge at my fingertips. Go check it out.

I ultimately landed on the idea of how treating folks with respect and courtesy can be incredibly rewarding, and I’m not talking about the warm fuzzy feeling it gives you. So here, in all of its glory, is the final financial lesson provided by my HVAC:

Lesson #4: Being Nice to People Can Be Highly Lucrative

I like to think of myself as a pretty nice fellow. Perhaps it’s like driving, where we all view ourselves as above average, but I’m certainly hopeful that my perception is close to reality.

Since I try to be nice to other people and treat them as I’d like to be treated, I do my best to treat contractors – like my HVAC tech – like human beings who are doing important jobs deserving of my respect.

My super advanced checklist of treating someone like a human includes:

  • Shaking his hand when he comes in
  • Learning and using his name
  • Offering him advanced amenities like coffee, water, and the bathroom
  • Asking him, as the expert, for advice (while not getting in the way of his work, natch)
  • Offering him help as and when needed
  • Saying niceties like “thank you”

Good stuff, to be sure, but this isn’t some smushy etiquette or pay-it-forward blog. This is a finance site. And guess what, fellow capitalist? The above activities can have a pretty significant financial payoff.

Why? How? I have my hypothesis, and it goes like this: I suspect that lots of people, especially the nouveau riche ‘round me, treat contractors (and folks in general) as something slightly less than a human being deserving of their respect. For some strange reason, people don’t seem to like that, so when they are treated with respect, it goes a long way.

Whenever I have a new HVAC tech come out, he’ll announce he’s there for the seasonal check and be ready to run around. He’s always taken aback (in a good way) when I shake his hand, thank him for coming out, tell him my name, ask him his, and offer him coffee or water. I can see his whole attitude change, and methinks this is not as common a greeting as it should be.

At the midpoint or end of the visit, I’ll ask if he needs to use my restroom, which I figure may save him a stop and make his day run faster. I’m not really worried about him messin’ up my bathroom, ‘cause he’s got nothing on my 5 y.o. Any time he needs it, he’s VERY thankful, which makes sense.

I try to empathize with him – I know he’ll need a ladder, and it’s a beating to carry his back and forth to the truck. I’ll have my light, easy-to-use stepladder handy. When my guy came out last month, it was 90 degrees (go Texas!), which meant it was baking in my attic. I climbed up the ladder to bring him a glass of ice water and a big fan that I plugged in, and after thanking me, he smiled and said, “No one’s done that for me before.” It took approximately 45 seconds of my time.

How has this translated into a financial return to me? Let me count the ways:

  • Free advice. I have received outstanding, invaluable advice over the years from my HVAC techs. They want to be seen as experts, kinda ‘cause they are, and that’s how I treat them. One tech walked me through the whole system purchase process (including advising that his own company wouldn’t be the best deal…shhhhh) which saved me a ton when I needed a new install.
  • Direct savings. I have a much better understanding of my systems from watching and interacting with the tech when he’s doing work, and that’s led to direct $ savings (changing my run capacitor myself one time is a special point of pride).
  • Better work. I suspect, but can’t prove, that techs do their best work for me. Maybe their best isn’t even good, but it’s still their best…
  • Lower costs. Charges for repairs are reduced or magically disappear. This is real, and I’ve seen incredible creativity applied to avoid charging me for something. If you don’t think that HVAC techs have some freedom in setting charges, you learned something new today.

I don’t treat people nicely for any quid pro quo; I’d like to think it’s just the way I roll. But even if I were the most evil, mercenary jerk in the world, I would STILL fall over myself treating a contractor nicely. It costs very little and can have a huge financial return.

Of course, treating someone with respect doesn’t guarantee a financial windfall. For all I know, that service tech you’re coddling may be planning on robbing your house later. The important thing is that being nice, ceteris paribus, should improve any outcome.

Here Endeth the Lessons

In Japan and Switzerland, I’ve observed two cultures where jobs of very modest prestige (e.g., garbageman, ticket taker) are done with a dedication, competence, and professionalism that is truly inspiring. It could be that the waters of Japan and Switzerland have special minerals that fuel a fire within each worker to do his best. Or it could be that a culture of respect and being nice to each other makes people in all jobs feel like their work is important and honored and therefore worth doing well.

When you live in a culture (ahem) where people aren’t always respectful and nice, you can earn a fat return on being nice yourself.

There you have it – the final financial lesson from my HVAC. Be nice to people. Preferably because it’s the right thing to do, but at a minimum because it will make you richer.


If you’ve ever made a financial killing with kindness, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. You can also share your sorrow at the end of my HVAC financial lessons.


3 thoughts on “The ROI of Being Nice”

  1. Well, I’d hardly call this a financial killing, but I seem to remember a pair of brothers making their first trip to Green Bay to see Favre and the Packers play. Gunslingers that they were, the brothers arrived knowing that they were at the mercy of scalpers to obtain tickets on game day. This did not prove terribly difficult, the transaction was made, and they had real-life tickets in their hands after forking over a modest sum of money. As the gentleman wished them a good day, he asked where they were from, etc., and they actually talked to the guy for all of 30 seconds. He then handed them back at least $20 and told them to go get some refreshments and to enjoy the game. Who knows, perhaps a conversation lasting an hour would have translated into a windfall of hundreds of dollars, at this rate?

    1. Ha! I was thinking of even referencing that story in this post. While the amount of money was modest, that was truly the quintessence of this issue. There was no reason whatsoever for that guy to give us beer money as the transaction was already over, but us being nice and excited and thankful (plus him liking someone from Dallas having a mancrush on Favre) made it worth it to him somehow to hand some money back. While I don’t think we could have talked to THAT guy for hours, it is interesting to think that we can talk to guys like that and have those types of positive interactions for the rest of our lives.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Linkfest #13 - Financial Uproar

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *