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October 2013

“(un)Common Courtesy”

You know, I still recall some of the things my mother instilled in me (often the hard way) when I was young – and I suspect, so do many of you. Not that, seemingly, many of those lessons are remembered by very many of us in today’s business community.
If I was asked, for example, “Would you like an ice-cream?” and I replied “No.”, then I was very likely to receive a swift “clip ‘round the ear-hole” – immediately followed by the words “Don’t ‘No’. Say ‘No thank you’!” A short, sharp lesson in basic courtesy and manners – not so? Many people would call it pedantic or old-fashioned to still expect such simple courtesy in the 21st. century, but I know that such niceties not only still have their place but are also still very much appreciated by most people. For “people”, read “customers”. Yes, customers are people too. The fact is, “common courtesy”, of any kind, is increasingly uncommon.
Ask yourself, how many times have you ‘phoned a business, tried to speak to a person, only to be told that so-and-so is “in a meeting” or “is out” or “is unavailable”. That’s it. That’s all. Not “Can somebody else perhaps assist you?” or “Can I perhaps take a message for you?” Just a pregnant silence whilst the person answering your call impatiently waits for you to say “Alright, I will try again later…” or just (grudgingly) thank them (why, heaven knows, because they haven’t actually done anything for you) and hang up. You have to ASK (sometimes insist) on leaving a message. Even if the operator/receptionist does take a message for you, more often than not, the intended recipient is unlikely to receive it and, if they do, are even more unlikely to bother answering your message/return your call. This does not just happen once, it happens again and again and again. I have, many times, left 4 or 5 messages for a person, sent 1 or 2 e-mails and called 8 or 9 times without bothering to leave a message – just on the “off-chance” that the person I am trying to reach might just answer their ‘phone. I bet you have too! This is the reality of modern business.
Think about it. The average customer does not telephone, fax or e-mail your business because they have nothing better to do with their time. They are not bored. They (attempt) to contact you and/or your business because THEY WANT SOMETHING. Goodness! Could it be that they want to BUY SOMETHING?? Imagine that. Somebody trying to put money in your pocket! Brilliant! Simply put, it costs your customer time and money to talk to you. If you do not answer them promptly and efficiently (for whatever reason – your customer is not really interested in the why and wherefore), then, sooner or later, they will simply give up trying and go somewhere else. Like one of your competitors. And if you think they won’t tell a ton of people about the bad service they received from your business, you are mistaken. Disgruntled customers LOVE to tell everybody they meet about their bad experience. Bad news ALWAYS travels faster than good news. You don’t think so? You obviously have not conducted a “customer satisfaction” survey of your client base recently. As a business owner, you are also a “customer”. It doesn’t matter if it is with your local supermarket or a global conglomerate. A customer is a customer. Don’t you also get angry when you receive bad or non-existent service? Go on, admit it… Now you are beginning to remember what it feels like to be one of YOUR customers…
The point of this little diatribe is simply this. Don’t forget the basics. It costs nothing to say “please” and “thank you”. It is, most often, less than a minute or two to return a ‘phone message or an e-mail and, I guarantee, your customers will appreciate it out of all proportion to the action. The results will be apparent in your balance sheet. Guaranteed.

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