Thursday, April 19, 2007

Business Etiquette and N'etiquette: Does it still exist in America?

I recently visited with a couple of people very familiar with the distribution side of the tool and equipment world. We were discussing the types of business articles that the readers of TechShop might find of interest. Dave Cox, of TEDA, quickly pointed out how important communication is in our world, and yet how few people seem to be aware of proper business etiquette. Glen Pratt, President of TEDA, immediately jumped into the conversation and we were off!

Whether you're in distribution, sales, customer service, a shop technician, a shop owner, or a small business owner - it doesn't matter. In social situtations, correct behavior is constantly changing and being redefined, but in business matters, manners are still important!

One point that came up immediately in our conversation was the importance of returning phone calls, this quickly led to the importance of responding to e-mails. Let's talk about phone calls first. If you're the boss, you set the bar for how things are done in your shop. In our shop, we know we return all phone calls within one hour from receiving them (assuming we're not on the road and periodically checking voicemail). Our phone message tells the caller whether or not we're in the office. A one-hour time frame might be too long for your business. If a customer is calling to check on a part, they probably need to know within ten or 15 minutes, same if they're checking to see if a repair can be done. If they don't get a quick response, their fingers are dialing the next name in the phone book.

And one other comment, something I learned at a young age - answer the phone with a smile on your face. Your customer can hear your attitude in the tone of your voice, a smile helps keep your attitude positive.

Cellphone etiquette - is there anything worse for your business than the annoying cellphone person? We've all done business with him. He's the young person who is on his cellphone while you're trying to buy a product from him or explain a problem. Clearly, his friend on the phone is more important than you, the customer. To my way of thinking, the annoying cellphone person finds their friend more important than their job. And either the cellphone or the employee has to go. More and more businesses are restricting the use of cellphones during business hours and on their business premises. It may be tough to monitor and enforce, but from the customer's perspective, I think it's a smart policy.

Let me tell you about a recent experience I had at my local Target store. I was doing my usual Saturday morning shopping, kids in tow, looking down the aisles for stuff on my list. As I turned one corner, I see ahead of me, two employees in their bright red Target vests, walking side-by-side, cellphones opened and pressed to their ears. Well, I was a little bit disturbed, I thought they should be working. But wait, it gets worse. One hangs up the phone, another joins the group from another aisle, and proceeds to open her cell phone and make a call. Call me crazy, but should three employees, apparently on the clock, be wandering around, making personal cell phone calls? I don't think so. During the years that I worked in retail (and there are many years...) my managers taught me that if I wasn't ringing up a customer's purchase or talking to a customer, I should be putting merchandise on display, cleaning merchandise on display, straightening merchandise on display.... you get the idea. But, here's my other point - are managers teaching this type of work ethic today or are they hiring warm bodies that show up, and work when "needed"?

E-mail etiquette - Here's my thoughts on e-mails. Don't hide behind your e-mail. Yes, some messages do get caught in spam filters and the sender wonders if you ever received it. But, most business e-mails get delivered. If you receive an e-mail and don't have an answer - just let the sender know you received their e-mail and will get back to them. Don't leave them hanging. You end up looking unprofessional and uncaring. It is part of good customer service to respond to your customers, your peers, your distributors. Business e-mail should not be treated the same way you might treat your personal e-mail. In the business world, it is another communication tool. Use it properly.

One pet peeve I have about e-mail (once people respond), is the horrible attention to spelling. Just because your response might be a quick "yes, I'll be there" or "yes, we have it in stock", there is no reason to respond with "ys, ill b ther" or "yes,qe hav it on stick". Don't use youthful, text messaging shortcuts, and please watch your spelling. We used to call it "fat finger syndrome" when I was in the manufacturing sector and our plant manager would regularly send misspelled e-mails out. Don't fall victim to the fat finger syndrome. Your e-mail represents you as a business person.

No comments: