Volume 88, July 2008: Customer Etiquette

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

This is a monthly electronic magazine for anyone who wants to be a better leader, coach, facilitator, or simply, to tune up their people skills. It is a complimentary publication, devoted to the next evolution of Quality Thinking.

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2008 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” — Jacques Maritain, Reflections on America

“Each small act of kindness reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of the good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it is passed, until simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away.” — Dean Koontz, From the Corner of His Eye

“Etiquette’s yardstick is people’s feelings.” — Chris Nolan, Mastering Business Etiquette and Protocol

“Mean is so last generation.” — Linda Kaplan Thaler, in interview


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Conducting business with thoughtful consideration.
  • Acknowledging the dignity of others through polite and caring words and actions.
  • Suspending judgment of others.
  • Viewing customer complaints as gifts.
  • Showing immense respect fop people’s time.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

Courtesy and caring show respect for the dignity and value of others. As a leader, you are always looking for ways to honor the presence of others – your customers – everyone you come in contact with. Clients, staff, family members, visitors, vendors, and passers-by.

A positive, friendly attitude, a pleasant tone of voice, and suspension of judgment put a person at ease. Small kindnesses – smiles, a gesture, compliments, favors – make a person’s day, maybe changes lives.

Etiquette is not so much about which fork to use, as it is about principled behavior. The consequences? Alignment, engagement, energy, delighted customers, and improved bottom line.

Frequently Asked Questions

“Your thoughts on personal introductions?”
With any customer, internal or external:
  • Greet with a smile, establish eye contact, and offer a welcoming remark.
  • Give your name and role, offer help (even if they are not your customer) and try to determine their needs.
  • Address formally (Ms., Dr., Mr., Mrs.), then ask them how they would like to be addressed.
  • Continue to use their name during the interaction.
  • Acknowledge anyone who approaches you, even if you’re busy or on the phone.
  • Slow down and give your full listening to the customer.
“We can’t get straight on our phone system. This is a real turn-off to our customers.”
The person answering the phone is often the first and maybe the only contact an individual has with your organization. Here are a few tips you might pass on to all staff members, not just reception:
  • Answering: Set a standard on number of rings (2-3).
  • Greeting: "Good Morning/Afternoon." Identify self and company. (Any more takes too much of their time.)
  • Hold button: "May I put you on hold?"
  • Messages: Name, relation, and #. Read it back. Sign it.
  • Transferring calls: When possible, don't. Help the caller, get a number and have the call returned. If transferred, give the name and number to which you transfer. Summarize their need to the transferee.
  • Voicemail: Greeting, name, department, instructions for leaving a message, and how to get help right away, if needed. Change voicemail to explain long absences or unavailability.

Consider technological options to phone floods, e.g., fax-on-demand or friendly voicemail options. And with phone trees, have a clear option to reach a live human being.

If necessary, script routine responses. And remember, a smile on your face comes out through your voice.

“Is there a standard for returning calls and e-mails?”
Establish a corporate protocol for turnaround time on returned calls and email responses (if possible, within 24 hours), and communicate this to customers.
If an issue is sensitive, has potential for conflict, and maintaining relationships are important, do not use e-mail or voicemail to replace face-to-face contact. Eighty-five to 93% of communication is non-verbal. Also, 10 small issues could be handled in one meeting.
Never send confidential or sensitive information electronically – think of the e-mail as a postcard that everyone in the company can read (Post, 2005). Never forward an e-mail the sender intended for you alone. E-mail is not appropriate for formal communications or complaints/criticism, resignations, invitations, thank you notes or birth announcements.
Use the recipient’s name in the Greeting and sign off formally, e.g., “Best regards.” Be short and simple (less than a screen’s worth).
“Waiting times are a problem for us, and I can’t seem to get people’s attention on this.”
Time is one item we cannot manufacture more of. Show respect for people’ time – in waiting, responses, turn-around time, services, being on time. Always manage expectations about time:
  • Let people know what they can expect in wait times and inform them of any delays.
  • If it is not possible to meet a time commitment, give the reasons and offer options.
  • If you cannot address an issue immediately, provide an accurate time frame.
  • Beyond 15 minutes waiting time for an appointment, practice service recovery.
  • Make customers comfortable if they have to wait. Nix the frayed magazines, burned out bulbs, lack of privacy, inappropriate music or TV shows, industrial seating or leaving someone unattended for long periods of time.

Exercises and Action Items:

  • Role play in meetings. How to deal with angry customers, wait times, mistakes.
  • Set time standards and protocols for greeting, waiting, phone etiquette, e-mailing, and voice-mailing.
  • Have employees shadow a customer and note waiting times, number and type of encounters, trip wires, and broken processes. Or send a “mystery shopper.”


Customer service training articles: Phone Pro.

DVD’s, e-learning, workshops: Telephone Doctor.

Key Associates offers Customer Service training. Contact us for more information.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Etiquette Quiz: Do you have good manners?.

Customer service etiquette for both sides: Customer Service Etiquette.

E-mail etiquette and customers: Email Etiquette Is Good Customer Service.

Keyzines on related topics: Optimism, Employees as Customers, Valuing Diversity, Cynicism, Minding Manners, Principled Leadership, and Civility.



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