Believe it or not, minding your Ps and Qs really does make a difference in business these days. As one business owner said to a satisfied client: “We always hire for manners because everything else can be learned on the job.”
It’s an interesting hiring strategy; who would have thought that the unique value proposition in the deal would be manners? Although business protocol isn’t actually taught in any business school, maybe they should start.
So what can you do to incorporate a little social grace into your daily routine? It’s not as hard as you think, as the following explains:
1. Focus on the present. We’ve all turned into multitasking machines: we talk on the phone, check e-mail, travel to the next meeting and eat lunch, all at the same time. But juggling tasks is overrated and unfulfilling for all involved. The person on the other end of the line can tell your mind is wandering as your voice trails off, the clicking of the keys in the background is annoying and distracting, you’re about to side swipe the guy on your right side on the road, and food is meant to be shared and enjoyed, not shoved down your throat as fast as possible. Slow down, focus and put your full attention into everything you do. People notice and appreciate your interest.
2.When you’re on the phone, smile as you talk. Smiling almost forces you to articulate more – it’s harder to mumble and slur your words when you smile. And a smile comes through in your voice and tone. We all know companies that put millions of rands into a fancy customer relationship management (CRM) system to help them “touch” their customers in meaningful ways. The funny thing is, when you phone their main number, you get put into a phone tree that never seems to end. It’s frustrating– you actually have to listen to several minutes of “Press 1 for X, press 4 for Y”.
Most of us would first recommend the company has a real human being, preferably one who smiles and picks up the phone, at least during normal business hours. A company like this can hire alot of people for all the money it spent on the CRM system upgrades and training. Call us old-fashioned, but it really is nice when you can reach a smiling human being on the other end of the line.
3. Listen to your phone’s outgoing message. If a salesperson’s voicemail barks, “I’m not here. Don’t leave me a message on this phone!”, would you buy from him? Not likely. Make it easy for people to find you and follow up with you, especially if you’re in a people business. It’s perfectly acceptable to say thatyou’re travelling and unable to check messages regularly, or that you prefer people to leave messages at another number, or even to set your cellphone so it doesn’t accept messages at all. Announcing that you don’t welcome voice messages makes you seem unapproachable and cold. Neither are desirable qualities in business.
4. Apologise when you make a mistake. It’s the cover-up or denial, not the screw-up, that ultimately gets you in trouble. Imagine having two people not show up for scheduled meetings. One makes excuses and says he’ll get back to you with dates for a lunch to make up for it (and doesn’t bother), and the other phones the following day asking when and where you can meet again. Everyone has emergencies. It’s how you handle these situations that show your character. People can become more loyal than they ever intended if you rectify a bad situation by addressing the problem and making amends. “The dog ate my homework” didn’t work in high school, and it won’t work in business. Come clean and make good on your promises.
5. Let the call go into voice mail. Turn off your cellphone when you’re in a meeting and forward your phone into voice mail when people are in your office. If you start responding to every incoming missive, you send a message that the person you’re with just isn’t important. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, so give them your full attention and be engaged in the conversation in front of you. In a movie theatre, before the movie starts, there’s an ad to remind people to turn off their phones. Do we really need to stoop that low in business too? Before you give speeches or workshops, ask everyone in the room to silence their phones, and let them know that you’ll collect R10 for every phone that rings and donate the money to charity. That usually does the trick.
6. Practise positive e-mail etiquette. If you wouldn’t want to see it on the front page of the newspaper, then don’t send the message. It’s amazing what gets passed around the office and left on the printer, and you can be sure that information will fall into the wrong hands. So before you hit “Send” after a heated interchange, take a walk, get a cup of coffee and then read it one last time to make sure you really want that message to go out.
7. Acknowledge gifts. A simple “thank you” is sufficient. It’s embarrassing for both parties to have to follow up to make sure a gift was received. The person who sent the gift isn’t fishing for a compliment; they just want to be sure their package was delivered. And the recipient knows they should have responded sooner. Save everyone the hassle, and just drop a quick e-mail saying that it arrived. A corollary to this one is that if someone is responsible for helping you find a new customer or getting you a meeting with an influential person, you should let them know that you appreciate their help. A customer or a meeting is a gift in many ways.
8. Don’t take it out on the receptionist or cashier.When things aren’t going your way, don’t let the first person you come in contact with take the brunt of your anger. It reflects badly on you, and it’s likely that whatever went wrong wasn’t their fault. Maybe all good manners just go back to the golden rule: do onto others as you would have them do unto you. You may, infact, find that good manners will turn into good money. So listen to your mother and mind your manners. It’s the little things that add up to making a great impression with every encounter. Focus, smile, listen. It doesn’t take much these days.