Uncommon Courtesy!

Common courtesy: we all know what it is, and we all know how it makes us feel when we receive it. And how we feel when we don’t – that person walking in front of you and not holding the door open, someone who doesn’t say, ‘thank you’, when you hold if for them, and the frustrating task of trying to have a conversation with someone who is texting. That last comment about mobile phones might cause some to roll their eyes – modern technology is of course invaluable when it comes to running a business, but, in today’s society where everybody is so busy looking down, and a huge percentage of businesses are conducted online, has common courtesy become, uncommon?

A friend of my wife was complaining about this very subject just the other evening. She had purchased an expensive custom-made dress online for her daughter’s prom and was becoming increasingly frustrated with the customer service she had been receiving. Initially when the date she was expecting the dress to arrive came and went, she gave the lady the benefit of the doubt. The prom was a few weeks away anyway and a one-off hand-made piece would surely be worth the wait. Besides, the seller was bound to drop her a message with an apology and a renewed delivery date in due course. A week later, nothing. No dress, no apology, no contact from the seller at all.

So she sent the lady a polite email, explaining that she hadn’t yet received the dress she had paid for, and did she have any idea when it would arrive. She was shocked to receive quite a brusque reply a day or two later, stating that ‘custom made designs are time consuming and can run into unexpected delays, so please be patient.’ No, ‘sorry’, and no explanation of what these ‘unexpected delays’ entailed or if anything was being done to resolve the situation.

With the prom night fast approaching and another fortnight gone by with no dress or explanation in sight, my wife’s friend ended up contacting the seller to cancel her order and buying her daughter a dress from a store. It took several emails and the threat of a negative review on the seller’s business page to get even a partial refund. ‘Never again,’ she vowed, would she buy something from someone selling online.

Conversely, another friend had to return a tie she had ordered online for her grandfather when it arrived, in the promised time frame, after he had sadly died. Not only did she receive her refund in a timely fashion, she also received a card of condolence in the post. This small, courteous gesture resulted in her ordering gifts for friends and family from said company over the following year, singing their praises to all, and the company earning a loyal, repeat customer.

The prevalence of mobile phones and social media in today’s society often have a lot to answer for. On the one hand they can be incredibly useful tools, allowing you to run your business and keep on top of things on the go, wherever you are, while reminding you have the dentist at 4 and that you need to pick up the cat’s medication at the same time. But, on the other hand, there are few things more frustrating than trying to conduct a meeting about business (or even a social meeting for that matter) with someone who can’t stop looking at the bloody thing every 5 seconds.

Turn it off. Put it on silent. Leave it in your pocket. The second it’s on the table vibrating and buzzing away, my companion’s eyes flickering towards the busy screen like a moth drawn to a flame, it tells me one thing: that whatever or whoever you are waiting for on that phone has more of your attention than me and what I have to say. And that is not courteous.

When it comes to your own business it’s never a bad thing to review your customer service, and you’ll often find that those who go above and beyond in that area are rewarded with more contacts, more referrals, more repeat customers. And that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

● Paying Attention To Names – It sounds obvious, but when it comes to networking and building a customer base, remembering someone’s name can be vital. It proves you have engaged fully with that person and have listened to what they have to say. If you don’t hear them the first time, or if you are unsure how to pronounce it, be honest and ask. It shows you have taken an interest in them and care about getting it right. If remembering names isn’t your forte try to repeat it several times throughout the conversation to help commit it to memory – just not so often that you sound a bit creepy!

● Greetings – This sounds like an obvious one, but whether it be in person, over the phone, or via email, everyone likes to receive a friendly, ‘hello, how are you?/I hope you are well’. It establishes rapport as well as being polite, and it will make people remember you as a friendly individual.

● Handshakes and Eye Contact – If you are meeting with someone in person, a handshake is the universal business greeting, and coupled with eye contact and a smile gives a positive first impression of someone who is engaging and honest.

● Handwritten Notes – This particularly applies if you run a business where you might be sending products out to customers who have ordered online. A ‘thank you’ email is nice, however, isn’t seen as personal a gesture as something customised and handwritten. This is especially important if it is to a repeat customer or a large account. It may take a little more of your time than firing off a quick email, and you’ll have to pay postage, but you only have to read my story about the friend who had to return the tie to see how it could benefit your business in the long run.

● Check for Grammar Mistakes and Typos – Again, this sounds obvious, but if you are running a business then chances are you spend a lot of time communicating through emails. Take a few seconds to properly proofread each one before you press send. It could be the difference between looking professional and courteous or sloppy and uninterested.

● Being on Time – This one is so, so, important. In today’s society where everybody’s rushing around and time is such a precious commodity, punctuality is critical. Whether it be arriving on time for a meeting, ensuring that package gets to the customer when you said it would, or meeting that deadline; future orders, referrals, and recommendations will depend on it. Say What You Do, Do What You Say!

● Put Away Your Phone – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mobile phone has all but killed common courtesy in most social situations – don’t let it affect your business too! Of course your phone is essential when it comes to running your business, but it is impossible to give someone your full attention when you are distracted by your phone. So put it away. Honestly, that text/email/Twitter notification can wait. There is no substitute for human interaction.

● Complaining – In a word, don’t. There are always going to be bad days in business or things that go wrong, but if you start complaining to customers about it all going wrong and how unfair it all is it will put you into a negative mind set, and that won’t help. Customers won’t want to hear what’s gone wrong or why, even if it is the reason why they aren’t receiving their order on time, or can’t order that product today. Instead it is much more productive to think of solutions to the problem and let them know how you are about to resolve the issue – preferably with a ‘Sorry for the delay, we really appreciate your custom and patience’.

You might be thinking that you already follow all those rules, and that uncommon courtesy doesn’t apply to you or your business. But let’s face it, in today’s fast-paced world, where the next big business is nipping at your heels, it doesn’t hurt to make sure that YOURS stands out as the politest in the industry. Your customers will thank you for it by coming back again and again.

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