Theology students learn early on that there’s one guiding principle that is common in nearly every religion in the world: the “Golden Rule”. It’s practically taught in every kindergarten too — treat others as you would like them to treat you. And when it comes to business, whether you’re a mom-and-pop shop on the corner or a Wall Street banker, choosing to treat customers with respect isn’t just about being a good person, it’s good business, too.
“Do Unto Others”
Whatever your beliefs in life, you probably know what it feels like when you get home after an experience where you weren’t treated with the regard you deserve. Perhaps a server was distracted, maybe a banker was curt with you or perhaps the woman at the till in the market never made eye contact, or maybe it’s all of the above. Much of what constitutes treating customers with respect is the foundation of good customer service. Customer service isn’t as omnipresent as one would hope, and sometimes neither is respect.
Something great happens when you treat people with respect and deliver great customer service, though; people feel more engaged, they connect with you. That makes for a happy client and a happy client is a loyal client. Even better, they’re chatty and will spread the word, bringing you new business.
If treating people well doesn’t resonate for you on a philanthropic level, then how about the fact that 75% of customers asked said they would strongly consider leaving any business that disrespected them?
Show Your Appreciation
The first step to showing clients respect is to ensure they know how much you value their business. This goes beyond a “thank you” — appreciation is in everything you do. When you promise to have something or do something for them, meet the deadline you’ve told them. When they call or write, get in touch quickly so they don’t feel like everyone/everything else is more important than they are.
Generosity works, too, and can be scaled for nearly every business. If you’re in real estate, a piece of décor or a nice houseplant might be a memorable way of saying thanks. A bakery can gift a valued customer a free loaf or their favorite cookie with their order. Customer appreciation days got their start for exactly this reason too, because who doesn't love 10% off?
Know the Customer
Being able to remember who clients are — not just their name, but who they have in their life, what they do, hobbies, anything like that — is the mark of seeing them as people. If they’ve been feeling off or seem out of sorts, simply noticing that and being empathetic is both a sign of respect and how to treat them with dignity. Everyone wants to feel noticed and known, and it doesn’t cost you a penny to make it happen.
It may feel disingenuous, but not everyone has a great memory, so if it helps you to keep a file on your clients with a few notes about who they are, then do that. Jot a few notes into their contact information, like, “Married to Sue, kids Chris and Michael. Likes boating and the Knicks”.
In fact, experts now believe this personalization of service is among the most important new trends in customer service — a way of humanizing business and bringing dignity to the exchange. Even something like remembering a client is gluten-free and making accommodations for that can go far in wowing a client for your level of care.
Be Aware and Accountable
When “Customers That Stick” asked over 1,000 consumers about their biggest customer service triggers, four of the top seven included being hassled, being ignored, being shuffled and being abandoned. Almost all of these are taken care of by just being aware of your clients’ needs and being accountable for ensuring those needs are met. Never leave them feeling like they’re hanging or not important enough for you to make a priority.
If things are taking a while, check in with them. Whether it’s a kitchen taking too long to fire a pizza or it’s a lender taking too long for a mortgage verdict, just check in and say “Hey, I know you’ve been waiting, I’m getting impatient too, but don’t worry, I’m on this and you haven’t been forgotten.” That’s really all it takes most of the time, but it doesn’t work as well if it’s being said after the client has expressed frustration, and that’s the trick — addressing it before it becomes an issue.
Listen to Them
Does it irk you if you pop into a fast food joint and place an order “to go” but then the clerk asks you, “Is that for here or to go?” It probably throws you off for a second, but if they’d gotten it right, you’d feel like you weren’t just another customer stepping up to the till, you’re a human. And this is what it’s like in nearly every transaction people make — they want to be heard the first time, and if they’re not understood, they wish that were resolved at the same time.
The technique of active listening can be transformative in relationships of all kinds. It involves not just listening well but repeating ideas back to them and ensuring you’re getting the details right. So, a realtor might not just repeat what the client is looking for, but perhaps why — or clarifying why, so when they find a place with a modification to that wish list, they'll know if the client’s needs and wants are met.
Similarly, listen to what clients say about things like being called “sir” and “ma’am,” which some people do arbitrarily to show respect, but if the person dislikes it, it’s not respectful, is it? Be aware that nearly 80% of “listening” comes from observing body language. If they bristle at being called “sir” or they flinch if you try to guide them by the elbow, then listen to that — but if they welcome it, then listen to that.
Employees and Colleagues Matter, Too
Going the extra mile for the client won’t matter one bit in the long term if you don’t treat others with regard too. Many customers watch how businesses treat their employees and subordinates as a metric for what kind of ethics they practice. If they see poor treatment or a lack of dignity, it can be the catalyst for them taking their business elsewhere.
On the flip side, operating with integrity and treating everyone who deals with you – from service to customers — can be great advertising as people mirror that behavior and speak well of you. After all, you never know who’s watching and you never know where another opportunity lies. The best way to win new business is by being the kind of person people enjoy doing business with. It’s really that simple.
Steffani Cameron is a professional writer who has written for the Washington Post, Culture, Yahoo!, Canadian Traveller, and many other platforms. Some writing projects have included ghost-writing for CEOs and doing strategy white papers. She frequently writes for corporate clients representing Fortune 500 brands on subjects that include marketing, business, and social media trends.