Everyone knows the saying “Don’t throw stones in a glass house.” Of course, this line has been invented precisely because we all throw stones from within a ‘glass house’ at some point in our lives. The only difference is that some people sport commercial grade glass while others’ can crack with the mere ascend of a single ant. In short, we’re all guilty of life’s little ‘faux pas’ once in a while.

Yet, there are some basic courtesies in business that should never be overlooked. They might seem rather simple, but these little details, could very well define your ethics, how you interact successfully with people (whether client or supplier) and in overview, score serious brownie points to obtain new business.

I’m sure there are many more points, but the following 7 basic tips are based on personal experience.

1. Learn to Listen

I receive quite a few calls on a daily basis from clients and of course, regular unsolicited telesales calls. This first line of attempted communication from a caller is to ask how I am doing. For the past few years, I have observed and have ‘experimented’ with how well people listen in service industries, so the answer to the first question is simply: “I am fine. Thank you.”

The immediate response received on this is: “I’m also fine.” Note, dear readers, I did not ask the individual on the other end how he/she was doing.

Our ‘communication skills’ are now so poor that conversation designed for courteous conduct, is completely automated. It has lost a quintessential purpose: to connect. When someone doesn’t listen, it sketches the idea of a conceited individual, so naturally, I would be averse to listening to any sales pitch.

Another example of an automated response is to listen to shoppers as they purchase something at a store. When the cashier hands them their change and till slip, it is the customer who says, ‘Thank you’. Why do customers say that? Who should really be saying ‘Thank you’? When cashiers thank me on hand-over of my change, I often reply with “You’re welcome!” and I find it interesting to see an immediate reaction to a real response.

While we’re on the topic of cashiers, a last note to retail shops: When a cashier greets a customer, and is asked how they are doing in return, the customer is often left without an answer. With any business, be sure to train your staff to listen to questions asked – even if they are deemed ‘unimportant’. There are many customers who measure your service against little details like common courtesy.

2. Don’t assume we have telephonic eyes

This point is aimed at companies who make use of a receptionist. Here’s the scenario: You phone a company. The receptionist answers your call – usually only mentioning the dialled company’s name. Of course, it’s handy to know that you’ve dialled the right number, but I would feel much more welcomed if that voice follows with “Good day, how can I help you?” or “Hello. How may I direct your call?” 

Of course, with some receptionists, merely getting past the company’s name could be a challenge all on its own. All too often, the company introduced by a receptionist sounds nothing like the actual name of the company. It is therefore important that your first line of communication should be someone skilled in language. When you’re dealing with an individual where language is a barrier, you’re unlikely to continue a conversation or end up in serious need of a shot of tequila when you’re finally put through to the right department. 

  As a last scenario, let’s assume you’ve dialled a company and you’d like to discuss a requirement with someone. It’s a random call and you have no idea whom to connect with. How often, after you’ve explained to the receptionist what you would like to enquire about, were you put on hold without any reply? Wouldn’t your receptionist create a better impression of your company if she/he would communicate that your call is going to be placed on hold while she/he dials you through to [person’s name goes here]? Or worse, said receptionist doesn’t officially place your call on hold, slams the phone down on her desk and loudly shouts at a colleague to find out who can handle our call. 

Know this: your receptionist should know your business inside-out. The business of ‘where’ and ‘what’ the rest of the staff are doing at any time, should be a primary commodity for the receptionist as all calls (and money), theoretically, flows through her first. Remember that your receptionist is the first representation of your company. So, here’s a quick recap on this point: 

  • Train your receptionist to listen and respond correctly in a friendly manner. 
  • Ensure that your receptionist is well spoken with good communication skills. 
  • Make sure the receptionist understands that callers don’t have telephonic eyes – they can’t see what the receptionist is about to do and neither can they read minds – effective and professional communication of her/his actions are vital.

3. Confirm, dammit! 

It’s true that technology is very zippy and nippy now, but mails do still get lost and things can disappear into cyber space. When someone emails you, especially on request of information or a task that needs to be done, be sure to confirm receipt. 

I often ask customers and suppliers to confirm receipt of an email so as to ensure that on acknowledgement I, a.) know the ball is in their court and that b.) in the event that my email gets lost, that they are not waiting on me for anything which could cause obvious delays.

A confirmation of receipt of not only a common courtesy that makes communication easy for the other party, but it’s also just good manners – especially when the sender specifically asked you to confirm receipt. A confirmation of receipt does not require you to answer in full – obviously, we can’t always respond right away. It just boils down to: “Thank you – received. Will answer as soon as I can.” That’s all there is to it. It takes a ‘massive’ 5 seconds to do.
So, make you mommy proud and show people that your mother’s efforts in teaching you good manners have not been an utter waste of time. Be sure to confirm your emails – even if you haven’t been requested to do so. 

4. Feedback to Accept or Reject 

In my business, taking down a client’s brief can require a substantial amount of time - especially so with intricate development. Compiling a quotation along with all the development specifications can take up even more time. Many companies don’t take pride in their quotations and border onto undefined lines that leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong. 

From plenty of experience, we prefer to define and specify everything so that there are no miscommunications and that the client understands exactly what our development would entail. As much I pride myself in presenting a decent quotation, it could also take up to 5 hours to compile. By the time the potential client receives a proposal, a substantial amount of time has already been invested into their product – without any promise of payment. It’s a chance many companies are prepared to take, especially in a declining economy. 

Eventually the quotation is sent and you’re waiting for feedback. No confirmation of receipt. A week later you send another email following up. No reply. At this stage, I’m no longer interested in working with someone who doesn’t have the courtesy to reply and at the very least thank me for time spent creating the proposal, even if my quotation was not within their budget or not the right solution. 

Think of it this way: You’re cooking a delicious lunch for your friend that takes you over 3 hours to perfect. She sits down, shoves her face full of food and leaves without saying a word about the flavour or even just a ‘thanks’ for all your effort. That would stir up some emotion, wouldn’t it? Do you think the frustration experienced by a stranger would be any less simply because they’re not a friend? 

Being a potential client doesn’t exclude you from the courtesy of communicating whether someone’s quotation has been accepted or rejected. When someone invested time to present you with ideas and proposals, it is only fair that you play it straight. It’s ‘OK’ to say no. It’s business. But just say ‘something’!

5. Stick to the Payment Terms

When one shops for groceries, do you think they would let you leave with the intent on paying for it later? Naturally, this doesn’t apply to those who buy on credit, but you’re still expected to, in fact, you’re contracted to make a payment at the end of the month. For everyone else, you pay at the cashier – immediately. 

Why should business be any different? I work strictly C.O.D. and set out the terms and conditions of sale neatly in all my proposals. When I deliver, you need to make a payment. 

Naturally, people can get sick or they might be traveling, or sometimes your schedule can be overwhelming on days – life happens. Yet I’ve had countless occasions where after 2 payment reminders, an account is still not settled. It becomes quite clear that that individual has no respect for business conduct.
Perhaps I am a little old-fashioned, but I miss the days when people shook your hand and you knew that a deal was honoured. With escalating fraud and scams in today’s society, it’s to be expected that almost all businesses work on a ‘pay first’ method. But there are instances where payment is matched with time logged and can only be billed on completion of a service.   

Ensuring that a payment is settled according to agreed payment terms is not only ethical business conduct, but it ensures that business operations can flow. My company, Aftershock Studios, is one such a company that depends on all payments being made on a monthly basis, whether large or small, in order to settle other creditors on time. They in turn depend on my payments to settled their debts. So, you might not care what happens down the line, but if 50% of amounts due are not paid in time throughout the country, do you think the ripple effect would exclude you? Do you believe businesses would continue to operate? It would surely cause a national shut-down. 

If you’re someone who doesn’t much care for honouring payments within the time you agreed on, know that the big wheel keeps on turning and tends to double up on you at the worst possible time. 

6. Including Emails into Mailing Lists

We’re all familiar with spam mails. And out there, somewhere, there’s an evil company dishing out everyone’s email addresses for a fee so that spam and digital marketing can continue to annoy 99,98% of the world’s population (there’s always 0,02% of the world’s population that feels so rejected by society that spam is considered a necessary highlight of the day). 

If you’re not particularly protective of your email address, it logically follows that a lot of spam can be expected. However, a trend that I find detestable, is when you communicate with a company via normal email and your email is added to their mailing list. Or, when you send an online enquiry via a website, and specifically untick the box to ensure that you are NOT added to a mailing list, but you’re pestered with weekly mails thereafter anyways. What’s the point of having a fake ‘untick’ box in your online form? Are you merely trying to appear ethical? 

If I want to find out more about what you’re selling, I’ll either visit your website or I will sign up to your mailing list officially. It’s not ‘OK’ to add someone’s email address to a mailing list for digital marketing purposes without their consent. 

While South African legislation is in place with regards to unsolicited marketing, there’s not a lot of strong legal action taking place. Everyone knows that getting into legal battles demands a lot of time and money. So, we simply delete the email in frustration and move on. 

But what would happen if you asked someone’s permission to add them to a mailing list? Would those email campaigns not carry a lot more weight when someone actually wants them? Sure, your database of emails would be far smaller, but your readers would welcome your offers or correspondence.
For a few years now, I have maintained a single practice whenever my email is added to a mailing list without my consent: unless I have no choice, I refuse to do business with that company. 

It’s a simple trade-off really: respect my time and privacy and you’ll get some of my money. 

7. Stop Pushing

Africans have a long tradition of taking things slowly in business. It’s a little like a new relationship – first you flirt, then you smile, then you hold hands, and maybe, if that works, a lasting relationship develops. Note, I’m not advocating being slack in any way, shape or form – things need to get done after all, but when you’re presented with a concept or a proposal for business, it helps to be granted a little breathing space to mull things over. 

It’s good practice to follow up leads, but so many companies are so performance driven, that pestering potential clients on a daily basis for an answer is considered and adopted as a ‘killer sales technique’. It is a ‘killer’ alright, because when I’m pushed to close a sale, the first thing that becomes obvious is how little faith you have in your proposal or product to do its work. 

If you’ve included everything into your proposal that I need to know and have carefully considered my requirements, then why not ‘rest’ with that and allow a potential customer to take it in and make a decision for themselves? In fact, when someone tries to ‘hard sell’ me so aggressively, I often wonder: ‘What’s wrong? Are they trying to close the sale quickly before the illusion is lifted?’ 

You don’t have to make potential customers believe that there is a ‘cat fight’ going on for your singularly unique product – why then are you pushing so hard? 

Making customers feel like they are part of a ‘hit and run’, is more often than not, a deciding factor in avoiding a business relationship.
By all means, follow up, but allow sufficient time. Waiting a week is completely acceptable. Trust your product or solution to speak for itself.

I would like to invite you to look at your business conduct and if one or more of these practices apply to you, consider applying these small improvements. Making such changes would be visible to existing or potential customers and improvement in sales can really only be expected by word-of-mouth. So, when you track your client responses over the coming months, I’m positive that you will notice an increase in new and existing customer sales. 

About the Author: Rosika Delport
Aftershock Studios
Rosika is the founder and director of Aftershock Studios. She's been in design and front-end development since way back when the Dead Sea was still critical! Her design approach is simple elegance with an eye for strong abstract lines.