A  few days off recently spent by taking way too much time visiting tabloid celebrity Web sites and watching TV has me thinking about my few run-ins with the “rich and famous.”

Not living in Southern California, I’ve only had limited interactions with well-known individuals, especially if you don’t count local politicians I interviewed in my newspaper days. A friend who lived in Los Angeles for a decade regularly saw celebrities, and even met Jerry Seinfeld at a movie theater a couple years after his eponymous television show ended.

My wife, who grew up in Phoenix, could usually count on seeing stars every time the Super Bowl or any high-profile college football bowl game came to town.

Even my father, who worked for decades as a county sheriff, occasionally helped provide security to notable people, meeting comedian Buddy Hackett and U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s.

My interactions with celebrities have been much more infrequent, and not always pleasant. About nine years ago, I was in Chicago on business when a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist walked toward me. As a one-time reporter myself, I stopped to say hello and extend my hand.

I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his writing. But I didn’t have a chance. The writer looked up, said a quick “Hello” and darted across the street, jaywalking.

Perhaps I appeared scary, but I don’t think so. I wasn’t interrupting him at dinner or following him into a bathroom or other private place. Of course, he was under no obligation to talk to me, but readers like me are what enabled him to be a very successful writer.

Impressions

You can bet I told a lot of people about that experience and think about it every time I read his column or see him on TV. However, I’m keeping his name private for this column because it doesn’t really matter.

In contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief interaction with former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential nominee candidate Mike Huckabee.

I found him standing alone, no security or entourage, in the lobby of the California hotel where the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association was holding its annual meeting last October. He was last year’s keynote speaker. I approached him with a “Governor Huckabee?”

He graciously said hello and we talked for a few minutes, mostly about the convention. His politics aren’t mine and I’m not a regular viewer of his Fox News show, but that didn’t matter. He took several minutes for polite conversation and I appreciated that. I told several people of my pleasant encounter with him.

What does any of this have to do with sheet metal? It reminds me about customer service. If you don’t treat people well, they will certainly tell people - a lot of people.

If you do treat people well, they might not tell as many, but those they do will have good things to say about you. Some celebrities and high-profile politicians know this and are always gracious when approached by fans or constituents. They know that the public is the largest reason for their success. Others, like that columnist I met in Chicago, are rude or abrupt and seem to forget that.

As the HVAC industry continues to struggle through this recession, be sure to think about how you treat each of your customers, whether their business is worth a lot or very little. Because although you never know what your customers will say about you, you should do everything you can to ensure it’s positive.