Good Faith

I avoid this subject a lot, both in conversation and in my writing, because deep down I believe that people should know what “good faith” means. I’m writing about it now because I feel like its been forced by a customer who I could have had a good working relationship with, if he’d understood my definition of “good faith” and been willing to hold up his end of it.

I’ve deleveloped my concept of good faith over my entire lifetime, learning my values from my parents, who’ve been in business practically their entire adult lives. They showed me the value of a handshake with the right person, and the value of avoiding it with the wrong person. I added to that value system over 21 years’ of dealings in the Air Force, as a maintenance technician, supervisor, and manager. You can sign a million contracts, and while they each will hold some value, none of them will be as valuable as a good faith handshake with the right person. That hand-to-hand contact and look in the eye put an agreement on the right footing, but sometimes will show whether the agreement has weaknesses.

Every once in a while my belief in good faith gets violated by someone who doesn’t understand it or wishes to take advantage of it. Over the years I’ve become better at detecting flaws and successfully avoided a few train wrecks. Several years ago I let my emotions get in the way and had a huge train wreck that changed my detection system forever. However I still believe that good faith between good people can bring nothing but good as long as there are no outside influences.

Good faith means that two people are embarking into an agreement where they both trust that they will work together to bring about a good relationship between them, and complete a given task or series of tasks in a way that benefits them both to the greatest extent possible.If the possibilities change and one of the parties notices it, then its their responsibility to bring that problem to the table so it can be managed in a way that still benefits both sides.

Here’s why I’m writing this: In the last four years, Amerivet Services has not had a single person write us a bad check. There’s been a lot of good faith exercised on my part because a lot of people have advised me to be a little tougher about checks, and I imagine I’ll be forced to make changes as time goes on. Regardless, I went to start a day’s work for a local contractor who’s been around quite a while and still seems to have good irons in the fire here and there. They come across as a reputable company from the outside and the inside. The owner of the company even came to the job site at the beginning of the work day and gave me his welcome speech and told me how he had a lot of work for me and that he was going to get me badge access for this place, that place, and so on.

I had a great day working with the maintenance manager, rebuilding this and repairing that, and at the end of the day I was written a check, which I was very grateful for because we had a lot of other accounts with outstanding balances. I happily deposited the check, paid some bills, bought my wife dinner, and went about my way.

The following week I woke up and did my morning accounting, only to find that the check in question had been returned and I had a whole pile of overdraft charges totalling more than half the value of the check. So this presented a serious problem with my good faith system. However I still believed that if I called the customer the problem could be resolved quickly and we’d be able to salvage a good working relationship because I understand how things happen and money from this account doesn’t end up in that account, no big deal.

I made a phone call, no answer, left a voice mail. Hours later I did it again. Then Tammy tried to call, same response. Next day, same scenario, several days later, same scenario. So much for good faith…between overdraft charges and the time it took to deal with them and keep MY good faith in good standing, that good day’s work was now a situation where I’d effectively paid to work for someone else.

The thing is, the simple act of returning the call, apologizing, and resolving the situation, then moving forward would have salvaged that good working relationship and kept the wheels of good faith rolling.

I’ve lost a couple of customers that way. My dad would say “well you didn’t need them anyway.” I guess the problem with good faith is that money gets in the way sometimes. It really bothers me that things work that way. Business should be a matter of agreeing what needs done, providing the best product possible, and getting paid a fair amount for making it happen, then repeating as necessary, all in good faith.

I’m not here to take advantage of anybody. There are people out there who are, but I stay away from them even if it costs me money because I feel that it will pay off in other ways.

The biggest problem I see is that the lack of good faith in business costs a huge amount of money. Because of a good faith problem I had a few years back I had to hire a collection agency. Now that I have a collection agency on tap, I have to raise my rates. Because of a lack of good faith in various parts of the world I have to have business insurance, workmen’s comp insurance (that doesn’t even cover ME), DOT inspections, OSHA documentation, HAZCOM programs, security systems, credit card processing systems, and so on. Each of those takes a chunk out of my time and my bottom line, all because good faith apparently isn’t as good as I’d like it to be.

Still, I exercise good faith wherever I can. I give good deals in situations where good faith is guaranteed, and that good faith brings benefit in many directions. I have one customer who (no kidding) raises my bids on projects I work with him on because we have so much good faith between us and he knows I’ve got his back. In return he has mine. That’s good faith at its best. I have several other customers who send me other customers because of the good faith I exercise and the hard work I back it up with.

Good faith is what has kept Amerivet Services in business over the years, and it will continue to do so.