As a professional in any field, professional courtesy should be a given. Unfortunately, it's not.
Customer service reps routinely focus on why they can't solve a problem rather than how they can. Salespeople often receive orders without sending thanks. And customers are quick to cite poor service but mute in acknowledging exceptional service.
In this article, I offer recommendations for enhancing your professional courtesy, all of which are matters of common sense. The problem with common sense, however, is that it's not very common. Consider these tips and apply them for increased professionalism.
- Returning calls and e-mails.
Isn't it ironic that companies expect their salespeople to send attention-grabbing voice and e-mail messages while many of their employees fail to return messages themselves? People often complain about receiving unsolicited calls and e-mails yet contribute to the cycle by not responding to the communication. As a matter of courtesy, take a minute and reply with, "Thanks, but no thanks."
- Commendation letters.
People are quick to complain about poor service yet rarely commend exceptional service. When you receive exceptional service, I urge you to acknowledge it in writing. Besides performance reviews being significantly affected by documented customer experiences, the pride someone feels after unexpected acknowledgment is immense.
An adage states, "Make a person better off for having met you." If someone has done this, let her and everyone in her company know.
- "Tell 'em what you can do, not what you can't."
Too many employees fall into the defensive habit of telling customers what they can't do rather than what they can. Frankly, your customer doesn't care if it isn't your responsibility, if you've done all you can do, or that their request isn't in your job description. The customer wants solutions, not excuses.
One of my employees recently visited an Office Depot to complete a rush project. The item she needed was out of stock and she asked the customer service rep to check the availability at other locations. This rep told her she really couldn't do that because it would mean the other rep having to open boxes and check inventory.
My employee, now in shock, asked if she could call the other stores herself. The rep said she could but suggested she just go to a nearby OfficeMax and check their supply.
She heeded the rep's advice and went to OfficeMax. There she encountered a very helpful and courteous customer rep who apologized for not carrying the item. The rep then pulled out the Office Depot catalog, the store's direct competitor, looked up the product and began phoning for inventory.
My intent isn't to endorse one chain over another. It's simply to share how the same request was handled oppositely. The Office Depot rep took the path of least resistance in referring my manager to OfficeMax.
While giving away the sale by not verifying availability was a mistake, the bigger mistake was giving away a customer simply because of the effort necessary to meet her request. Even though the OfficeMax rep failed to make a sale, her time and extra effort made a customer.
- When calling, ask, "Is this a good time?"
Aside from being courteous, when asking this question, your effectiveness at meeting your call's objective will likely increase. Do you notice how many salespeople, when calling, slam you with information and intentionally don't pause? They do this so they won't be cut off.
A more professional and effective approach is to simply identify yourself, your company, and ask if this a good time. The prospect will usually say, "No." This allows you to briefly state how the caller will benefit from your product/service and to set a specific time to call back.
When you call at the designated time, your prospect will likely take the call due to your prior courtesy and their sense of commitment.
- Put away the script.
When asking cursory questions, don't anticipate a canned response. Actually listen to the person's answer.
Here's an unbelievable experience a close friend shared regarding a call he had with a telesales rep shortly after a family member's death. My friend answered the call and the salesperson said his name, the name of his company, and then asked how he was doing. My friend told the caller he wasn't doing very well due to a recent death in his family.
The rep said, "Oh, that's great," "I'm glad to hear that," or something similar, and began sharing the once in a lifetime opportunity his company was offering. The caller had no idea of what my friend had just told him.
Obviously, the caller wasn't doing this intentionally. However, by becoming so immersed in a pattern of questioning, he predicted my friend's response without listening to it. Aside from lacking courtesy, it's superficial and unprofessional.
Remember, when asking any question, don't just hear the answer; listen to it and understand it.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.