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Common courtesy can make a difference

At Issue

As a freelance writer, I have the opportunity to work with various editors and business professionals in other parts of the country.

While the geographic differences are distinct, I’ve found it interesting that a number of recent work-related conversations have centered on a common theme-basic courtesy, or rather the absence of it at some organizations and business institutions.

I found it ironic that the topic arose without any prompting and that similar observations were shared by individuals whose career paths and professional disciplines were seemingly very different. Many shared their frustrations in being treated rudely by the very same organizational representatives who are charged with responsibilities such as public relations, sales or marketing.

Many organizations devote substantial resources to customer service manuals and training, only to have those efforts fail at the point of sale or customer/client interaction. In an age of technological and educational advances, it’s difficult to understand how something as simple as common courtesy can fall by the wayside. But it can if it’s not embraced as a priority among CEOs and leaders in day-to-day operations.

And the bottom line is that company profits, charitable donations and associational memberships can all suffer from negative client/prospect interactions.

When I think of manners or how I want to be treated as a customer or client, a number of things immediately come to mind.

First, is promptness. Nothing is more frustrating than showing up for a meeting only to wait…and wait…and wait, with no word on the delay.

Some people have the attitude that their time is the only time that’s valuable. While emergencies occur, most problems can be remedied with a quick phone call to explain the delay or to reschedule. All it takes it a little consideration toward others.

When I think of manners, I also think of a person’s tone and gestures.

Have you ever called someone’s office only to be “greeted” by an irritable voice on the other end? Have customer service representatives made you feel like your inquiry was an annoyance or an interruption in their day? If you called a nonprofit organization or a foundation to ask about charitable giving options, did the representative run you off and tell you to “look up the information yourself” on the Web site? When you purchased an item at a store, did the sales clerk shove your credit card or purchase back toward you without a word at the completion of the transaction?
In many instances, the manner in which we say or do something is equally as important as what we say. A positive, engaged attitude can make a world of difference when interacting with clients, customers and prospects.

Another key element in treating others with respect is returning phone calls or e-mails. Several years ago, I remember a hospital marketing director who told me that he/she didn’t have time to return my phone calls because I was a reporter and subsequently, I wasn’t a “priority.”

On the other hand, I have also been amazed by various CEOs of very large companies who were among the most gracious and respectful people I’ve ever known and went above and beyond the call of duty to respond to interview requests before deadlines. Some of the busiest people are also some of the most organized and set aside time at lunch or at the end of the day to respond to inquiries.

Finally, when I think of courtesy, I think of the power of words such as “please” and “thanks.”

If you’re a manager, do you take time out to express your appreciation to employees for a job well done? If you’re the head of a business association, do you express appreciation to your members or volunteers for their support? Too often, we take the people who do the most for us for granted. A kind word or note can be the motivation for continued support in the future.

While hectic work schedules and responsibilities can frazzle all of us, basic courtesies and respect toward others make all of our lives easier.

Tupelo-based freelance journalist and consultant Karen Kahler Holliday writes regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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