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Communication Strategies

Gain a Competitive Edge by Practicing Good Manners with Your Customers

by Bill Lampton, Ph.D.

The pigtailed little girl on the commuter train saw the man drop part of his newspaper as he walked by. Instantly, she bounced to her feet, picked up the section, caught up with him and - without a word - handed the paper to him.

The man thanked her graciously. She went back to her seat, grinned and put her head in her mother's lap. The mother patted her daughter and smiled approvingly.

Whatever happened to good manners?

Watching the child's thoughtfulness in action brightened my day, because sometimes we wonder whether somebody held a funeral for good manners and we didn't get an invitation. This is especially true in business: for example, when the store clerk says, "You need to make up your mind, I have other customers waiting," or the cashier says he's "too busy to make change for a phone call." What would a customer notice by watching you and your employees in action throughout a typical day? Would the customer find the following expressions of thoughtfulness and courtesy that gain - and retain - customers?

Thankfully, hopeful signs do appear. Maybe it's the fast-food employee who greets you with a cheerful hello and a bright smile, or the retail salesperson who handles your merchandise return promptly and courteously without a lot of red tape, or even the telephone customer service rep who speaks in a friendly and helpful tone. Granted, this doesn't always happen, but in my experience, it seems to be more common today than in the recent past.

On a recent business trip, I welcomed several examples of how courtesy can compensate for inefficiency. Attending a convention, my wife and I confronted a series of blunders by the host hotel's staff.  We were assigned to a smoking room, though we had requested nonsmoking.   My laptop computer didn't have Internet access, because the new phone system wasn't installed properly.  The phone installers left our door ajar while we were attending an afternoon session.  Housekeeping left a stack of dirty linen outside our door overnight.  The health club charged an exorbitant rate for our workouts, although there was no warning that there would be a cost for hotel guests. 

What made the situation tolerable? Why would we stay there again?  There are four reasons.  At breakfast every day, Carolyn, our waitress, extended every courtesy imaginable.  When we wanted to change rooms, Sue at the front desk arranged our transition cheerfully.  Ely, the bellman who stored our luggage while we awaited our move, was a true gentleman as he heard our woes.  And Bill, the hotel manager, answered our letter with a cordial, constructive tone.  "Thank you," he wrote, "for your specifics in your letter," for "it helps us improve our operations."

What about your business?

What would a customer notice by watching you and your employees in action throughout a typical day? Would the customer find the following expressions of thoughtfulness and courtesy that gain - and retain - customers?

  •   You answer a ringing phone promptly. While three rings might seem quick to you, that time span could represent the limit of the caller's patience, especially if he's calling to get a problem solved.

  • When a customer is with you, you avoid side conversations with employees or even other customers. Good manners require giving your undivided 100% attention to the customer you're helping right now. Be sure to share this rule with all your employees.

  • You demonstrate courtesy by avoiding offensive habits - chewing gum, engaging in grooming (filing your nails, combing your hair), monopolizing the conversation, smoking among nonsmokers, or ordering more drinks than the situation merits, just to name a few courtesy no-no's.

  • You say the customer's name as you talk. The old adage is true: No sound is sweeter than the sound of your own name. Subtly, this says to the customer, "You are someone special, not merely customer number 14 on my list today."

  • You use good table manners during your business lunch. Want to make sure you are familiar with standard table etiquette? Then read 5 Steps to Professional Presence by Susan Bixler and Lisa Scherrer Dugan. Frequently I recommend this book when I'm coaching professionals on improving their image. Chapter 15 includes a section "Good Advice for Any Meal" that provides the latest on dining decorum.

Reviewing these suggestions may prompt you to schedule regular reviews of all your employees' on-the-job manners and behavior. Your customers will thank you - by returning regularly and by inviting others to do business with a company where everybody feels welcome and respected.

Bill Lampton, Ph.D., helps organizations achieve CPR-Cooperation, Productivity, Renewal of mission. He is the author of The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! For information on his keynotes and trainings call 352-438-0261 e-mail [email protected]  or visit www.ExpertSpeaker.com/Speakers/lampton.htm     

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