Kate Zabriskie

Got Business Manners?

Putting Your Best Foot Forward for Better Customer Service

By Kate Zabriskie

Kate ZabriskieConsider the following scenarios:

  • I sat there and watched the two of them completely engaged on Facebook. Never mind the fact that I’m a customer, and they are supposed to be helping me. The sad thing is: I’m not sure that they even realized how rude they were. Needless to say, I will never ‘like’ that place. I only go to that store when I’m desperate.
  • I sent in a donation and never heard a word from those people. I guess they missed the gratitude lesson in Fundraising 101. The next time I think about contributing to a cause, you can bet I’ll pick a charity that knows how to say “thank you.”
  • After speaking with that woman on the phone, I felt violated. I know she needed the answers to the financial questions in order to help me, but something just seemed wrong about the whole thing. I can’t put my finger on it, but it wasn’t a good feeling.

At one time or another, most consumers— including you—have had the unpleasant experience of being treated rudely, ignored, or abandoned altogether by people whose job it is to provide you with a given product or service. Amazing? Not really. Infuriating? You bet. Correctable? Absolutely.

Sadly, genuine good manners are less and less common these days, and why is that? Do people believe they’re simply too busy? Do they not know what they are supposed to do? Did no one ever teach them what is acceptable? Who knows? And frankly, the reason or reasons for failure are less important than the solution—consistent application of some often overlooked fundamentals.

Here are six suggestions for adding social niceties and common courtesy back into your customer service practices.

Start your interaction on the right foot. By definition, you’ve only one chance to make a first impression. Don’t squander it by being indifferent. Begin with a simple display of common courtesy:  smile, stand or sit up straight, and greet potential customers with “hello,” “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “welcome.” You won’t regret it.

Say “please” and “thank you,” and do it often. “Please” and “thank you” are the WD-40 of solid customer service. Used with sincerity, those three words build rapport, demonstrate respect, and quiet the occasional squeaky wheel.

Be mentally present when interacting with the people you serve. For starters, stop toying with pencils, rubber bands, paperclips, etc. that telegraph your boredom. But wait, there’s more:  put away your smart phone, close your tablet, mute your intercom, make and maintain eye contact, and listen to what is being said to you. You will step up your effectiveness and efficiency by giving your customers and clients your undivided attention. That doesn’t mean your interactions will take more time; in fact, they might take less because your consumers will reward you for putting them first.

Ask for permission. If you work in a business that deals with people’s finances, health, or other personal matters, get in the habit of requesting permission to discuss sensitive information.

You may or may not always get the answers you want, but you will give your customers and clients a sense of their control, and in the process of doing that you will affirm your own professionalism.

Let the people you serve know what happens next. As a service provider, you must remember that you do what you do day in and day out, and you know how your business works. Those you serve may not. Eliminate uncertainty and reduce anxiety by taking time to familiarize people with processes. When you do, you’ll find your customers are more likely to feel comfortable and confident in your abilities. For example, “Mrs. Jones, I’m going to give you a few minutes to change. Please put on this gown so the opening is in the front. When you’re ready, if you will flip this switch, a light will turn on in the hall to let me know to tell Dr. Black you are ready to see her. Before I leave, do you have any questions for me?”

Be genuine. “Your call is very important to us. So important, in fact, that we are going respond to it in the order in which it was received by someone at a location on the other side of the international dateline.  So very, very important that while you wait for that distant person to wake up, we’ll entertain you with a medley of boy-band favorites interrupted every thirty seconds by a voiceover that says ‘Your call is very important to us’ even though . . . .”  Convincing?  Oh yeah, totally. ‘Nuff said.

In a world crowded with sincerely insincere messages, you can stand out from your competitors by taking the time to put yourself in the position of your customers. In short, that’s what good manners are all about. Use them, and you can’t lose.

Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. She and her team help businesses establish customer service strategies and train their people to live up to what’s promised. For more information, visit