BY AMY CASTRO
When people think about etiquette, they often envision seven-course dinners, people in fancy clothes, and very formal behavior. In reality, etiquette is simply understanding and practicing generally accepted societal rules for certain scenarios, including business situations. In too many businesses, proper etiquette has disappeared. Rarely do you hear “please” or “thank you,” and don’t even get me started on how people dress at work. Too many people think etiquette doesn’t matter anymore, but it does and here’s why:
Etiquette fosters good customer service.
Common courtesies and politeness as well as active listening and attention to the customer will always raise the quality of your customer service.
Etiquette helps build employees’ self-esteem and self-respect.
Employees who treat others with respect, and in turn are treated with respect, will feel better about themselves and their role in your business.
Etiquette builds morale and better quality of work-life.
When everyone in your business exhibits good business etiquette, you’ll see better workplace morale, employees will be more satisfied with the quality of their life at work, turnover goes down and efficiency goes up. In other words, your employees will feel good and will work harder and contribute more to your business’s success.
Etiquette creates a positive image of your business.
When customers have a positive and polite experience with your business, they’ll remember it. They’re also likely to mention it to others when your business name comes up and even refer others to you.
Etiquette builds customer loyalty.
Customers who feel that they are treated well will come back. They’ll even come back if they could get your service cheaper from another business, or could frequent a business similar to yours that is closer to their homes.
So, what do we mean when we talk about proper business etiquette? In my seminars on business etiquette, I like to sum it up with some basic dos and don’ts. Many of them have to do with the things we do and don’t do in creating a first impression with our customers and employees.
Answer the telephone in two to three rings.
Our society is one of instant gratification. That means when people call, they expect to get help quickly. If your phone rings more than three times, most people will hang up. They won’t give you the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up to you being busy. They’ll think you’re disorganized, short-staffed or don’t care about helping them.
Respond promptly to all voicemails, emails, and social media messages and comments.
The old rule of returning messages within 24 hours no longer applies. If people contact you, they expect to hear back from you within two hours, or at least in the same half of the day. If someone contacts you with a question and you need time to get the answer, simply reach out and let them know it’s going to take you some time to get the information together. It’s also a good idea to give them an approximate time range and then be the “hero” and get back to them within one day instead of two.
Greet people when they come into your business.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a customer or your employees, when people come into your business, greet them promptly and enthusiastically. The only exception is when you’re already interacting with a customer. If you’re talking with someone and a new customer comes in, you can acknowledge the new customer with a wave, but keep speaking with the first customer until you’ve finished helping him or her. Then, when you’re done with the first customer, quickly go to help the new customer. If you have employees, be sure that all are trained to watch for such situations so they can jump in and greet new customers when you or other employees are preoccupied.
Have a dress code and stick to it.
What we wear communicates not only to others, but to ourselves as well. Having a standardized dress code, a “uniform” of sorts, sends a message of consistency, competence and professionalism to your customers. Providing your employees with shirts, scrubs, smocks or aprons that have your business name or logo on them creates a sense of belonging and authority when interacting with customers and each other in your business.
Always use common courtesies such as please and thank you.
A pleasant tone is not enough to imply politeness when you’re asking someone to do something. It’s important to add “please” and “thank you” to your conversations. Additionally, when you’re thanking someone, try not to just say “thanks” to everything they do. If you want your appreciation to be more meaningful and memorable, tell others exactly what you’re thanking them for and why. For example, if you have an employee who has come in early for the past three days to help you with inventory, say, “I really appreciate you coming in an hour early these past four days, Carla. It would have taken me two weeks if I had to do it alone. Thank you so much for your help.” Not only will it make your employee feel great, because appreciation is so often withheld, but when an employee’s good work gets noticed, he or she is likely to repeat it.
Be considerate of people’s time and help them be considerate of yours.
Arriving late to work or to meetings, or if your appointments are always running late, sends a message to others that you’re disorganized and worse yet, that you might not care too much about them. In the business world, the old adage “Five minutes early is late” is a good guideline to follow. If your business opens at 8 a.m., the doors should open promptly at 8 a.m. If you call a staff meeting for 1 p.m., you and your employees should be seated and ready to go at 1 p.m.
Additionally, avoid overbooking customer appointments. When you overbook, you’re selling your customers short by expecting them to no-show on you. You also end up punishing them by making them wait when they do show up. Overbooking also negatively impacts your reputation because people will tell others that you always make them wait. Finally, overbooking negatively impacts the service you provide when customers do show up because you’ll be rushing through the appointment and the result won’t be your best service.
If you want to avoid no-shows, remind customers of their appointments. There’s no magic formula for when or how to send reminders, but to save time, consider software that automates this process. Also, be sure not to overdo it. Start with two to three reminders. When customers miss appointments, don’t ignore the fact, but don’t make them feel guilty either. Simply contact them and say, “We missed Trixie and Bandit yesterday, but we still want them to get their nails trimmed. Please give us a call to reschedule!”