Throughout my lifetime, I always believed it was extremely important to treat customers, or anyone I interacted with, in a courteous manner. Anything less has proved to immediately put others on the defensive and lessen the chances of engaging in win-win interactions and relationships. However with each passing day, I notice that being treated with courtesy is becoming a lost art. Thus I thought I would shed some light on the importance of this lost art, with the hopes that we can all improve in some fashion.
Websites and e-mail have definitely transformed the way companies want to interact with their clients. As an opening example, I find that larger corporations such as banks and utilities are virtually forcing their customers to use the internet to answer their questions and solve their problems. I can't remember the last time I called a large corporation of any type and actually had a courteous human being answer the telephone. You are usually greeted by a computerized phone system that will give you every option imaginable before informing you of the magic option number to press for a live person to speak with. And you better listen carefully, or you will miss that magic number which is rarely zero anymore. I've also noticed that many companies have totally eliminated live representatives completely. However, if you are lucky enough to have the option number for a live representative, you're not home free yet. You are then placed in a cue of incoming calls and can wait another 1-15 minutes before actually speaking with someone. While you are waiting on hold, a voice recording is practically begging you to hang up and go to their website to solve your problem.
Ah! Finally you're put through to a company representative, after being informed that your conversation will be recorded for "quality" assurance. Often, even after getting a live person, there are still road blocks. You might then invest a couple minutes describing your problem before the representative informs you that he or she cannot help you and transfers you to another individual. Recently, I spent an hour on the phone with a top bank, being transferred four times and sitting on hold, in order to solve a problem they created for me. The worst part was each person I spoke with, treated me as though I was an annoyance, as I tried to solve a situation that they created. The irony is this company's mission statement is plastered all over their propaganda stating "how important their customer's are!" I guess these employees are not reading their mission statement.
In my opinion courtesy is cheap and it's an extremely effective tool in business. Yet it's overlooked and underused. Next, if you happen to venture on a company websites to solve your problem, you better hope you don't have to use the "CONTACT US" button. You'll be lucky if one out of ten requests for assistance, are ever answered after the first try. I keep a copy of every request and always follow up in a timely fashion. I have forwarded requests up to five times, without getting an answer. You begin to wonder "Does anyone care?"
As customers we have grown to expect discourteous service from large corporations. However, a lack of courtesy is just as prevalent in small companies, especially independent contractors who work out of their homes and have an answer machine for a secretary. These business-people have ads in yellow pages and newspapers describing their great services. When you call them, you leave a name and number on their answer machine and rarely get called back. Now I realize small contractors have busy seasons and can be overbooked for weeks during those times. But that's when you need them too! In my opinion there's no excuse for ignoring your phone messages. The courtesy of a call back goes a long way to encourage future business.
Having the courtesy to return phone calls, e-mails and snail mail definitely helps to build loyal business relationships. Being kind and courteous to your customers is a winning strategy - especially if your competitors act as if they are doing their customers a favor by servicing them. When you go the extra mile for a customer, it gets noticed by them. I believe the most profitable small businesses are comprised of loyal customers, who appreciate the value you add to your products or services.
It's also a great idea to be courteous with family members, friends and neighbors. It's just as easy to be pleasant and courteous with others as it is to be ignorant and miserable. There are also distinct advantages of practicing the former. When you are pleasant and courteous, you will have a better attitude as you face your challenges each day. You will also entice others to treat you the same way. As stated above, when you treat someone as an annoyance, they will tend to give you a dose of your own treatment. Treat others nice and perhaps they will treat you nice. All attitudes have an origin of formation. That's why it's important to believe that Courtesy Counts!