I remember the days growing up where I would watch the mailbox.
Flag is up. Mail hasn’t come.
Flag’s still up. Mail still hasn’t come.
And just at the moment it seemed as if 32 hours had snuck into my day, I’d peek out the living room bay window and see the long-awaited sign.
I’d rush outside in the 98 percent humidity of the Houston summer and find the letter from my grandmother. A card from my aunt. A handwritten delicacy that had traveled miles to reach me.
There are people reading this article who don’t know what it was like to wait for mail. Let’s be honest—we don’t wait for anything these days. But I want to take you back to a day where people did wait—and it was expected. And business still got done—and profitably.
We’ve started moving so fast that, never mind being impatient, we’ve become downright rude. It’s time we took a long, hard look at four age-old practices that can help bring common courtesy back into 21st century businesses.
Introducing: The Telephone
Patented in 1876 by Mr. Alexander Graham Bell, the phone has morphed from being the singular device that held more promise than any other in our homes to an object of disdain. We have smartphones that make us act anything but, and we’d rather type 63 messages back and forth on a microscopic keyboard than actually have a 3-minute conversation with another human being.
A Return to Common Courtesy: First, texting isn’t for business conversations. Second, pick up the phone. Everyone reading this article has been party to an all-day text or email thread rife with misunderstandings. Pick up the phone, dial your clients and customers, and do the most professional act possible: solve a problem—and fast. Phones are also great for dialing customers, clients and vendors out of the blue to say hello, thank you or just checking in.
Introducing: The Mail
The U.S. Postal Service dates back to 1775 when dear George Washington appointed the nation’s first Postmaster General. In my childhood, the mail delivered promises, greetings and life-changing announcements. Today, it delivers checks from clients and garbage I don’t want to read. In fact, I’m occasionally annoyed that I have to go to the mailbox. (My, how I've changed!)
A Return to Common Courtesy: Step away from the keyboard, hands where I can see them. Head to a stationery store or online purveyor of business correspondence like Moo.com. Start sending your clients and customers thank you notes. Or how about anniversary notes celebrating the day they first came into your business’s world? For the love of all that’s personal, use your hand to write a message. Anything to avoid the dreaded and impersonal e-card. E-cards get deleted. Handwritten notes are read and remembered.
Introducing: The Gift
We all grew up awaiting holiday-centric gifts—from those throughout the eight days of Hanukkah to gifts that adorned our Christmas mornings and birthdays. Today’s business gifting has fallen into the lame gesture of a coffee shop gift card being seen as the holy grail of appreciation. And … it’s lame.
A Return to Common Courtesy: First, it’s a moratorium on coffee shop gift cards. Your customers and clients deserve more thought than a pack of plastic cards you buy in bulk. We need a moratorium on gift cards, period. When sending clients a gift, consider their office environment. Is it shared space? Big company? Small group? What do your clients like (other than coffee)? You should know the answers to these questions. A gift should be personal. Here are some ideas that my clients have given me about what makes for a meaningful—and well appreciated—gift:
- Lunch for the office. (Be sure to call and ask about dietary restrictions and how you can create a lunch that the whole office will appreciate.)
- A gift certificate for a massage sent to a father after the birth of a child.
- A book mentioned casually in a recent meeting—not drop-shipped from Amazon but wrapped with a brief note referencing the meeting.
- Something nonsensical—my audience knows I love hedgehogs and I’ve received everything from hedgehog action figures to jewelry and posters adorned with the suckers.
Introducing: The Meeting
We’ve developed the fine art of never having to meet our customers and clients face-to-face. From Skype to every other kind of conferencing and calling technology, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel our clients breathe and sense their emotions. While technology empowers minds to collaborate from afar, we can have better, more personal meetings than we’re having.
A Return to Common Courtesy: First, think about that last episode of Mad Men you watched. Has one of Don Draper's client meetings ever gone on ad nauseam? No. They get in, present what needs presenting, discuss and get the hell out. No matter how you’re having your meetings—physically or virtually—stop having bad ones! Respect everyone in the room as an individual with places to be and things to do, just like you. Create agendas, set time limits and understand the goal of every meeting you have on the books. When hosting virtual meetings, show some respect. Keep the dogs crated and your phone on mute unless you’re the one speaking. We can all hear you typing. We can all hear the woosh of your email as you send another message. Common courtesy is about being respectful of everyone in a meeting. In return, you just might be surprised by how much respect people afford you in return.
We lie to ourselves and say that technology is the reason our businesses can’t grow faster. Odds are, we have all the technology we need. Where we’re lacking is in how we treat the people who make our businesses a reality each day—from customers and clients to employees. A return to common courtesy is one move you can make that will instantly elevate your business above your competitors, separate you from the crowd and create memorable (and positive) experiences that will make everyone inside and outside your company think you’re the bee’s knees.
A bit old-fashioned? Maybe. But every one of these four common courtesies above actually work. All they require is your willingness to get a little old school to drive some new appreciation.
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