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Seven Habits to Avoid when Dealing with Customers

29 Aug, 2005 By: Patricia Stephenson imageSource

Seven Habits to Avoid when Dealing with Customers

Whether selling solutions to
your customer or taking them to lunch, knowing which pitfalls to avoid while
conducting business can save sales, careers and keep customers coming back. It
can even save the business itself.

When basic standards of professionalism are not sufficient to potential or
established customers, they will simply walk away because they did not like the
way they were treated.

Most often, folks will not tell you how they feel, but they will tell others,
and that can hurt your company’s image and bottom-line profits. Dissatisfied
customers will have no trouble reporting to anyone who will listen why they
hastily defected and gave their business to your competitor. Ignorance is not
bliss. Improving people skills is key, and business owners are beginning to take

I know of CEOs and company presidents who have become alarmed after observing
their key people dressing inappropriately, demonstrating poor manners, and
exhibiting unprofessional behavior—all while in the presence of clients or
industry peers.

Don’t get me wrong, providing top-notch, innovative products to customers,
hiring talented people with up-to-the-minute technical knowledge, and delivering
comprehensive solutions are all critical. But product and technical skill alone
are insufficient to truly gain the competitive advantage in the industry.

The Stanford Research Institute and Carnegie Mellon conducted a research study
of CEOs which concluded that workers engaged in the field of technology,
long-term job success depends 75 percent on business and soft skills
(professionalism, customer skills, etc.) and only 25 percent on technical

Until recently, particularly with technical professionals, there was only
interest in developing technical skills. Yet, terminations are most frequently
the result of poor people skills, i.e., not being able to work well in teams,
weak communication skills, and other related weaknesses.

Certain faux pas are considered “crimes” by some, while others are merely deemed
to be “misdemeanors.”

Business Crimes & Misdemeanors

Articulate, expressive language when speaking is essential, but contrary to what
many people mistakenly believe, the ability to communicate well has little to do
with speaking. In fact, up to 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. How
we present ourselves to the outside world makes a statement. There is a right
way and a wrong way to get a message across.

Missteps can make potential customers or clients feel uncomfortable about doing
business with you. Here are seven “crimes & misdemeanors” to avoid:

1. Poor listening skills

Charge: Crime

Nobody ever learned anything by talking. It is my absolute belief that active,
attentive listening is the true secret to success. When it comes to
communication, listening is placed at the top of the list because it is the most
powerful and rewarding of all the soft skills.

Listening makes the other person feel important. It is a compliment to them.
People feel that you are interested in what they have to say and that you care.
It makes you and your body language powerful. At the same time you are
empowering the other person to feel confident that you understand and hear them.
Interrupting when someone is speaking is not only a seriously bad habit, it is
rude. Good listening skills takes practice, but is richly rewarding and well
worth the effort.

2. Habitually late for appointments
or meetings

Charge: Crime

It is amazing that there are people that need this principle explained to them.
So here it is: besides being unprofessional, it is an insult to the client and
everyone else. Being late shows total disregard and lack of respect for the
other person’s valuable time. Nonverbally, the message one is sending is, “I am
disorganized.” To the habitually late, I offer this newsflash: the business
world does not buy excuses.

Can the client be late? Yes. They’re the client. If it is positively unavoidable
for you being late, call the person and let them know your circumstances for
being late.

A first cousin to being habitually late is developing a track record for
canceling appointments, especially at the last minute. This is a great way of
giving yourself—and your company—a reputation for being unreliable. Adopt the
habit of canceling out on people and be perceived as the boy—or girl—who cried
wolf once too often. Failure to honor appointments destroys your credibility.

3. Sloppy appearance

Charge: Crime

It is difficult to rationalize the disarray and sloppiness that is so evident
throughout many organizations. The bigger question is why is it tolerated?
People come to work with unkempt hair, nails, shoes, and inappropriate clothes.
When the practice of business casual dress was born, it merely meant “less
formal,” i.e., no jacket, no tie. Somehow, over time, the word “business” in
business casual faded from the equation.

Sloppiness has become the culture in some organizations. It affects attitudes,
behavior and productivity. If one doesn’t take pride in their appearance, it
might be assumed that they do not take pride in their work. The individual who
wants to move up would be wise to dress with more polish and discipline than the
rest of the group. Ascend above the negative peer pressure. Some customers may
be offended by your dressing down too much, but most people will seldom take
offense to anyone dressing “up.”

4. Politically incorrect

Charge: Crime

Heard a “really good” off-color or ethnic joke lately? Thinking of sharing it
with your coworkers? You may think it harmless. Think again. Even if your
audience does not belong to the group that is being targeted in the joke, some
can be made to feel uncomfortable. Office humor and careless comments have
become risky business.

Certain discussions or comments can be deemed offensive, not just to coworkers,
but to customers, too. Unfortunately, there are still some people with archaic
attitudes who just don’t get that inappropriate comments and tasteless jokes are
no longer tolerated in the workplace. If this behavior is severe or pervasive
enough to create a hostile, abusive, or offensive work environment, it can lead
to massive liability for the company. There is no humor in that. It’s better to
play it safe.

Additionally, be sure to keep your email, memos and other office communications
free of potentially offensive content. Even the most well-intentioned jokes and
remarks can be interpreted in the wrong way. A prudent employer would be wise to
establish a policy restricting this type of communication.

5. Not returning phone calls or
answering email promptly

Charge: Crime

Not returning phone calls or answering email promptly can make the other person
feel that they are not very important. Just like the person who is habitually
late for appointments or meetings, it is a bad habit that can lead to lost

We all know how we feel when someone doesn’t get back to us in a timely manner.
Some people consider this to be an infraction that is downright insulting. You
never want to develop a reputation of being slow to return calls or email, or
worse, not answering. The general rule of thumb is to get back to the person the
same day. If that is not possible, then do return their call or email within 24

6. Sending email, proposals or
letters with misspelled words

Charge: Misdemeanor

Much of our business communication is done through writing. And nothing jumps
off the page more than misspelled words. Worse yet, misspell their name and your
chance of doing business with that person is jeopardized. Spell checker is a
wonderful tool, but will not catch all of the mistakes.

It is your responsibility to proofread and edit every email, memo, proposal, or
business letter that you write. Never rush something out without going over
every word first. If it is really important, and you have the time, put it aside
overnight and sleep on it. The next day you can proofread again with a fresh
eye. Perform any final editing that may improve the document before sending it.

7. A poor handshake

Charge: Misdemeanor

In business, first impressions are often formed based on your handshake.
Everyone remembers a poor handshake such as the “bone crusher,” the wet and
sweaty handshake, or the limp, weak and hesitant handshake. None of these will
work for you in business.

The bone crusher may suggest an aggressive personality. But there is another
reason to avoid having an overly firm handshake. There are people of all ages
who have arthritis or carpel tunnel in their hands. You do not want to be
remembered for causing someone pain. And most women know the feeling of having
rings crushed into their fingers, ouch!

The sweaty handshake is equally uncomfortable for both parties. Although it may
be attributed to a medical condition, perspiring hands may be interpreted as a
sign of nervousness. If this is a problem, wash your hands often or carry a
small container of hand sanitizer when you will be shaking a lot of hands.

A weak or and hesitant handshake may leave the impression that one is
inexperienced, unworldly, insincere, lacking confidence, or without authority.

All of these can be overcome by simply learning how to give a proper
handshake—one that exudes confidence. The first thing to remember is, in
business, gender does not apply. In other words, there is only one way to shake
a hand whether it is with a man or a woman.

A proper handshake extends to the skin between the base of the thumb and index
finger of each hand. Be sure your handshake is ‘gently’ firm to ensure against
the possibility of causing unintentional pain. To look trustworthy, remember to
use good eye contact, and smile.

Make your customers feel comfortable

How you and your company are perceived by others really does depend on paying
attention to the subtle, little details that make your customers feel important.
And it is not rocket science. It’s pretty basic. The more comfortable you can
make your clients and customers feel, the more they will view you, your company
and your product or service in a favorable light. The results will lead to more
sales, profits and customer loyalty.

Patricia Stephenson is president of Patricia Stephenson & Associates, Inc., a
professional development consulting & training firm based in West Palm Beach,
Florida. For more information visit www.etiquettepro.com or call her at

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