Manners maketh happy clients
When working with small businesses and talking about how to be more successful, we often stray into the world of Unique Selling Points (USPs) and often I hear people say ‘we deliver exceptional customer service’, or ‘we exceed our clients’ expectations’.
My issue is that many small businesses say the same, so how do you walk your talk, so it becomes something clients experience every time you speak to or deliver to them?
Looking back over years of being the client or customer, I believe ‘old fashioned’ manners are what makes us come back for more and recommend friends and colleagues to do the same. A triple Michelin star chef will struggle to fill their restaurant if the staff are rude; likewise, the best accountants around will be kicking their heels during the last week of January if they don’t impress and engage with their clients the other 51 weeks of the year.
It’s easier to comment on customer service when we go to restaurants or are buying from a retail outlet. These are short transactional experiences and judging the attention we receive or, in some cases, lack of it is straight forward. Feedback is often requested after these types of interactions. More and more a shop assistant asks you to complete an online feedback form for the chance of winning a prize in a draw so the company can monitor customer service.
For many small businesses, the product is a service, likely to be a longer-term proposition and therefore, the client experience is ongoing. Your service should be premium, five stars, top-notch as this is where we have the opportunity to wow. The tips below may seem obvious but how many times are you the customer and this is not how it goes:-
1. Contrary to belief, the customer is far from always right. However, getting defensive, needing to prove a point and being confrontational is not the best way to handle the situation. Showing respect, dealing with issues in a professional and empathetic manner and displaying dignity is a better alternative.
2. Understanding a clients personality, even at a basic level, will help you communicate successfully, they’ll feel more assured, and the experience will be positive. Please have a look at essential DISC profile traits to help you recognise personality types and how to communicate best with them. Practice recognising types in friends and family and experiment with how to manage conversations with them.
3. Avoid getting over-friendly or too relaxed in the way you treat clients. Address people appropriately using their title and surname or first name with permission. There are definite lines in the sand and boundaries that need identifying in a business relationship. The key is recognising and respecting them
4. Letting the customer speak and actively listening gives you the best opportunity to truly understand their needs and make sure you’re fulfilling them. Ask how you can help them and use open questions to explore more. Avoid interrupting them or making assumptions about what they’re about to say. Don’t switch off and start thinking about other things – you might miss a key message from your client or prospective client. You can only demonstrate your ability to resolve an issue if you’ve heard and understood it in the first place.
5. Respect the clients time, opinion and experience. Their time is valuable, their opinion valid their experience potentially relevant and ignoring any one or all of these is the ultimate in bad manners and will make you a leader in the rudeness stakes. So avoid being late to an appointment, going off on tangents during the conversation or letting the meeting run over – listen to their opinion, explore it and explore compromises with solid reasons for doing so – discuss any relevant experience and how this could be beneficial.
6. Repeat back crucial points of a conversation to show you have listened and understood. As well as showing respect, this also allows you to make sure you have not only heard but understood correctly. If you don’t know something, then go away and come back with the answer. Do not be tempted to guess at a solution or make it up; they’ll see right through you and could feel you see them as a fool.
7. Be effusive and not disingenuous. Let the client know that you’re delighted at the prospect of working together and starting the relationship, whether it’s for the long term or just a short project or engagement. By the point of committing, you should both be equally excited and looking forward to it.
8. More than words… When face to face with clients remember that your body language also needs to be positive, friendly and respectful. Sitting with your arms crossed, frequently glancing out the window or glazing over show a lack of manners. When sending emails, texts or other messages take 2 minutes to re-read, not just for mistakes but also for tone. Messaging when your busy means the message might be brief, which can be perceived as offhand, uninterested or rude.
9. Follow up on everything you said you would and deliver everything you committed to as an absolute minimum. It’s such bad manners to offer something and then not provide what you’ve said you would.
10. Avoid all distractions while with a client and give them your 100% attention. It’s obvious to think of external causes such as phones but be mindful of your internal dialogue that allows your mind to wander off too.
11. If you make a mistake or there is an issue, admit the error as quickly as possible. Apologise and give your solution to resolving it as quickly and effectively as possible for the client.
12. Thank you should be your finale. It’s basic manners in life and business and should never be, underestimated, overlooked ignored nor forgotten.
In a competitive market where you not only want to in clients but ensure you keep them over-delivering on manners is cost neutral, lifts everyone’s spirits and often gives you an edge.