The era of e-mail, the Internet and abbreviated communications has brought with it increasing levels of discourtesy in business interaction. Call centre training seems to have been exhausted by the constant 'churn' factor (staff changes). The absence of social sophistication in those dealing with queries has led to dreadful social gaffes becoming the norm.
Can you or I change the pattern? Maybe not at a macro level, but certainly for ourselves and those immediately around us – the answer is yes. Part of the brand proposition of your business, service or product offering is the social engagement that goes with what you do.
'Polite' may not sound cool – but it's the foundation from which we need to work. We simply can't afford to treat a customer (for want of another word) in any way other than with politeness, warmth, appreciation and indeed gratitude for the fact that they're actually our salary cheque speaking.
I recently had the opportunity of staying in an incredibly expensive hotel, courtesy of a client who clearly saw that as the right thing to do since I was working with their people in that city. Bless 'em. For the inflated price I knew they were paying, I had the privilege of being a number. There was a seamless and yet utterly soulless smoothness to the machine that the hotel was. It was a people-processor. Perfect service, perfect smiles but literally devoid of a personal touch or a sincere word from the staff. The high in the sky double-glazed windows that insulated my executive suite from the outside world and left me cocooned in a strange silence, was the metaphor for the hotel's overall approach.
The business assignment over, I decided to spend the weekend in Cape Town to recover some energies and give myself a mental break. I checked at my own expense into a highly personable, way more down to earth little hotel. The doorman deviated from his job description when he saw my equipment cases piled in the back of the car. He became bellhop and concierge all at once. Inviting me to drive into the parking garage where he met me with a trolley. He then insisted (not with that 'I know I'll get a big tip' manner either) on making my arrival painless and really pleasant. His behaviour was as if he owned the hotel – which he certainly didn't.
Being as tuned into communication experiences as I am I couldn't help notice the contrast between the two establishments. The one was almost what I'd have expected at a Swiss euthanasia clinic. Professional, no-nonsense but remote. The other – a much more comforting way to die if you'll excuse the continued analogy.
That same trip saw me use a car hire company at Cape Town airport. On a Friday afternoon at 16:20, there was just one attendant behind the counter. I began to hell-raise, as is my habit when I encounter bad service. Because I always contrast it with the experience I try to give people when I work with them. Interesting for me was the surly attitude of the supervisor who had been pried out from behind the scenes. Her comment: I'm not officially on duty yet. That's the difference between someone doing a job and someone with a vocation for good service. The irritated customers (yes, there were other but silent sufferers) were not her concern until she got 'officially' on duty. The brand and reputation damage wasn't her bag. Although a supervisor, she was after all just an employee. I asked for the head office phone number and left a message for the MD (she wasn't available after 16:30). Nobody ever returned my call. So I'm not surprised that the supervisor echoes the so-called leadership lack of service or interest.
Have you examined lately, how your customers and clients might be feeling about you, your staff and your business? It's never too late to start making small changes that make a big difference. Try it. You, your staff and the clients will like it.