Posted April 22, 2020

Treating customers right

Incorporate empathy, politeness and courtesy into your everyday business.

By Meg Guiseppi

If you don’t treat a customer right, they may not come back, and they’ll certainly tell anyone who will listen how badly they were treated by you. Top customer service quality will not be realized without good manners, practiced by every one of your employees. Not enough businesses pay attention to this and it negatively impacts the health and sustainability of their companies.

Call it customer service etiquette or business etiquette or netiquette for social media; it all boils down to empathy, politeness and courtesy. Do you have robust customer service initiatives in place that incorporate these three tenets to successful customer contact?

Customer service etiquette
Daniel Goleman, a pioneering psychologist who helped to popularize emotional intelligence, identified three steps to strengthen empathy:

Active listening: Be genuinely interested in what someone else says and feels.

Open up: Share a similar struggle you faced and your emotions about it. It can help take connections to a deeper level.

Try well-wishing: Extend well wishes to others brings compassion to ourselves and others.

Improve your business etiquette
Go out of your way to make the user experience stellar and memorable in a positive way. Get all of your customer-facing employees on board with best practices and monitor their behavior.

Make them aware that nuance is important; everyone needs to be very careful with how they express themselves in all dealings with customers.

In-person interactions
Our manners tend to be better when we’re facing people in real time than when we’re on social media or the phone. Most of us don’t want to get that pained look from someone who’s been slighted or mistreated. It’s a look that we can only experience when we’re face-to-face. Even so, many business owners and their staff don’t measure up when they’re face-to-face with customers.

You can’t assume your people were brought up with good manners. Set customer service standards and train everyone to assure every customer will receive top-quality service.

Sharon Schweitzer, modern manners expert, describes five ways to show professionalism, patience and dedication to each customer you meet:

1. Listen attentively to customer’s concerns. Allow them to fully express their concerns or inquiries. Ask questions to get as much information as you can from them, but don’t talk over them. Let them finish, even if you know the answer right off the bat.

2. Remain professional through every interaction. Refrain from chatting with other employees while working with customers. Instead, Schweitzer advises focusing on catering to the customer and avoid talk about personal topics.

3. Tell the truth. Always be honest about the products and services you’re selling. Don’t make a claim about a benefit to the customer just to close the sale quickly. Address their concerns and provide other options.

4. Be prepared. Stay up to date about every aspect of your company and its products and services.

5. Remain confident. Even if you’re new to selling this product or service, stay calm and positive. If you can’t answer a customer’s question, find someone nearby who can.

Appearances matter
One aspect of workplace etiquette that doesn’t always receive priority treatment in the workplace is good hygiene and grooming. Trailblazing small business owner Nic Cober stressed the importance of employee appearance:

“In customer service there is an explicit assumption that when you take care of your appearance, you will care about the quality of your work or product as well. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to make these seemingly implicit etiquette rules clear.” The biggest takeaway about etiquette and customer service training is the old adage: ‘Don’t assume.’ The employer must define the norms and expectations within the business.

On the phone
Establish a script for answering the phone that includes the name of whomever is answering, the company name, department (if applicable) and a question like, “How may I help you?” Keep it brief but meaningful.

Then, follow these essential rules of phone etiquette. Most are obvious, but should be noted:

  • Answer within three rings.
  • Introduce yourself.
  • Speak clearly.
  • Use speakerphone only when necessary.
  • Actively listen and take notes.
  • Use proper language.
  • Remain cheerful.
  • Ask before putting someone on hold or transferring a call.
  • Be honest if you don’t know the answer.
  • Be mindful of your volume.
  • Check for and respond to voicemails.

Email etiquette
Businesses spend about 25 percent of their work time sifting through emails received and sending out email. This needs to be done politely and professionally.

Barbara Pachter, author of  Essentials of Business Etiquette, suggests these tips for professional and effective emails:

  • Include a clear, direct subject line.
  • Use a professional email address.
  • Think twice before hitting ‘reply all.’
  • Include a signature block.
  • Use professional salutations.
  • Be cautious with humor.
  • Know that people from different cultures speak and write differently.

Some other tips for effective emails:

  • Do not use your phone for business email messages.
  • If you’ve been exchanging email on a specific topic, respond within the same stream so your customer can look back and follow the thread.
  • If you’re notifying or reminding your customer that they need to take a particular action, don’t state that in a command. Instead of saying “You have to send me XYZ by the end of today,” say, “A gentle reminder that we’ll need XYZ by the end of today.”

This article was originally published in the May-June 2020 issue of Pro Contractor Rentals magazine. ©2020 Urbain Communications LLC. All rights reserved.