Client etiquette is your manner of professional conduct. It exemplifies the image and expectations clients have when doing business with you. Whether you are a top executive or a new hire in the office, your clients will be observing and assessing you. They are watching every and all aspect of their experience. Good or bad, they are formulating opinions and judgments about what they see. If you want to elevate your client experience, it begins with the right practices for client etiquette.
A True Differentiator
As businesses struggle for differentiation in a value-compressed environment, etiquette is more important than ever. Clients want to be cared about and cared for; it frames all aspects of their decision making. There may be some aspects of etiquette that vary from country to country, but basic business professionalism stands the test of time. It is a true distinction among competitors.
Every interaction a client has with your firm is part of their experiential process. As such, you need to be aware of your demeanor. A client may be waiting in the reception area as you walk by and they will observe your body language, dress and communication with other people. Client etiquette is not just about what is being said; it is about what the client observes. Everyone needs to project a professional demeanor at all times so the client sees consistency.
Too many colleagues walk around with their heads down or do not have a good poker face when they are stressed. Make sure everyone greets clients with Good morning or Good afternoon in a gracious manner. If you see a client sitting alone in the reception area, ask if they have been helped. It goes hand-in-hand with client etiquette.
Elevate Your Words
There are customary words and salutations everyone uses to be polite. However, you can truly distinguish yourself and your firm by going the extra mile and elevating how you say things.
Any time a client says, ‘Thank you,’ always respond with My pleasure instead of ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘No problem.’ It is a far more gracious demonstration of etiquette.
Don’t say, ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘Sorry about that.’ Always respond with, My apologies. It is more sincere.
Don’t say, ‘To be honest with you’ or ‘Honestly.’ It implies there is something going on behind the scenes the client may not want to hear. Simply say, Here is how this works. It is more definitive and instructive.
Don’t say, ‘Unfortunately, no.’ It implies you are not able or willing to serve their needs. Refocus the conversation and say, That is not something we offer, but what we can do for you is…
Don’t say, ‘I don’t know’ if you don’t know the answer. Say to the client, I would like to verify the most current and accurate answer, may I call you right back after I speak with that department for you?
Don’t say, ‘Hold please’ or send a client straight to voicemail without asking their permission first. It is impersonal and shows a lack of courtesy. Say to the client, May I place you on hold for a brief moment to see if John is available? If John is not available, do not say, ‘He is busy right now, can I take a message?’ Say to the client, John is meeting with a client right now just like you. May I take care of something for you or I would be happy to have John call you between 2 and 4 pm today? That way the client is being served immediately or can anticipate a phone call that has been specially scheduled for them. Never say, “I don’t know where John is.” That is simply careless. Go the extra mile to help serve the client’s need in the most courteous, expedited manner.
Don’t say to a client, ‘Can you spell your name?’ First, it implies their name is an imposition for you. Second, YES, a client CAN spell their name! Say to the client, Would you kindly spell your name for me so I capture it correctly? It is a more gracious and humble way of asking.
We all need to be conscious of a client’s needs and preferences. Keep in mind, it goes both ways. Your client will be observing your appropriateness. Proper grooming and personal care are some of the most important aspects of gaining respect in and out of the workplace. Dressing well is not just for special events, it is about how you show up every day and carry yourself, even if no one is watching. Personal care and appearance can be a determining factor in making a client comfortable or uncomfortable.It creates an impression about you, but also the people who work alongside you.
We all want to express our individualism with personal appearance, but clients will be judgmental. You are among the primary influences on their first impression.
Not every colleague is required to wear a suit; however, dressing professionally and with personal care demonstrates work ethic. Attention to personal hygiene shows you care about your appearance and the image of your firm. Dressing in athleisure, open-toed shoes, or T-shirts may cause people to think you or your staff are lazy. It doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable, but you can dress a step above. Yes, fashion is how many of us bring forward our personal brand, but in the workplace, decorum and your firm’s brand are the most important factors to consider.
As a general rule for client etiquette, always dress and show up one level above what is expected. You may think your clients want a laid-back, less intimidating atmosphere, but that is your point of view. Your professionalism needs to reflect the value your clients are paying for.
Personal demeanor is the way you behave towards other people. It is an important component in client etiquette and a distinguishing feature about your personal nature. In addition to your attire, clients will listen and observe your tone, expressions, how you speak to them, and how you speak to others. This is all part of the emotional filter through which clients make decisions.
Gossip and Negativity
Any bit of gossip or complaining within earshot of a client is unacceptable. It gives the client a peek into how things really are behind the scenes. Perhaps a client hears the home office is incompetent. Perhaps the client hears something derogatory about your service team. Even worse, they may hear someone complain about another client or witness eye-rolling. There is nothing gracious about these scenarios.
Any inkling of gossip makes a client wonder what is being said about them. Be better.
Conversational Do’s and Don’ts
- Never talk negatively about other employees, operational issues, the home office or another client. Remember, a client or guest could be in earshot. Always be aware of your surroundings and who is listening.
- When asked by a prospect or client how you are doing, always say, Things are going well, thank you…and how about you? Never try to be relatable to clients by oversharing. Do not say how overworked you are, how crazy things are, or a ‘woah is me’ attitude. Always stay positive and professional. Clients want to be around positive people.
- Never use the words ‘dude’ or overuse the word ‘awesome’ or other slang. It is immature and not professional, regardless of your peer group.
- Never display negative emotion or eye-rolls if you are having a bad day in front of the client.
- Never use slang words, ‘Nah,’ ‘Yeah,’ etc. Always be professional by saying Yes, Certainly, My Pleasure.
- Don’t say ‘Can you spell your name?’ Say, Would you kindly spell your name so I capture it correctly?
- If you need to put a client on hold, don’t say, ‘Can you hold a second?’ or ‘Hold please.’ Say, May I place you on hold for just a moment?
Keep Your Cool at All Times
As the manager of the front desk, or a staff member sitting in close proximity, you may find yourself in a hectic situation with multiple calls coming in or guests arriving at the same time. You may be asked a question you are unsure how to answer. The key to managing these situations is to keep your cool, especially if a client is waiting within earshot.
Respect for Other’s Time
Some people are habitually late for meetings. They do not know how to manage their time or meeting agendas. They always run over, making it difficult for the next client who has been waiting. Some people make their personal comfort and needs a priority over their clients’, thinking the client will not mind. It is the definition of self-indulgence.
If you are always running late, you are not busy, you are inconsiderate.
Making people habitually wait, 10, 20, or 30 minutes does not display you are busy or in demand by clients. It demonstrates you are rude, inconsiderate and personally and professionally disorganized. Ask yourself, what impression does that leave, especially when you asked the client for the meeting? You are not above the needs of your clients.
In the presence of a client or your colleagues, do not divert attention to your phone or computer. If an important notification comes through and you need to answer a communication quickly, say, Excuse me, would you mind if I step away for a brief moment?
The Right Practices for Email Etiquette and Printed Communications
Email is a necessary and efficient way of communicating in business. However, it has also become an easy excuse to not talk with people directly. Yes, it helps to ensure documentation and clear instruction, but it can also be taken the wrong way based on your tone or an unintended lack of warmth. Email and printed communications are key factors in etiquette and require careful forethought and sensitivity. This includes:
- Always double-check that the person you are emailing is the intended recipient. In today’s marketplace with auto-fill features on phones and email, you might type in the name of a recipient and another recipient with the same first name pops up. You might unintentionally send another recipient a client’s personal information – which is a serious privacy and legal violation.
- Proofread your communications multiple times before you send. A spelling or grammar error could be perceived by a prospect or client that you do not care or are not attentive to details.
- Make sure you complete the subject line in a clear and direct manner. Clients receive multiple emails and they don’t need any further confusion.
- Don’t just respond to an email with an answer. Show a little warmth by starting with, “Hi Janet,” in your opening statement. It shows you are taking the time to be more personal and not curt or short in your tone.
- Think twice before hitting “Reply All.” There may be an unintended party on the original distribution list.
- Use explanation points sparingly. There needs to be a professional tone and demeanor.
- Be cautious with humor. Humor can often come off as sarcasm or the wrong way.
- Use easy to read fonts in 12-, 13- or 14-point size. The best fonts are Arial or Calibri. Other fonts are difficult to read across different computer screens.
- Never write or respond to an email or complaint when you are angry or in a bad mood. Wait a while, take a breath, and come back to make sure you keep a professional tone.
- Use real words, not emoticons, slang or emojis. Often these characters do not translate on every computer system and not every client understands slang. Do not use “4U” or “C U then”, etc. It is not considered professional business communication.
- When you finish your email, sign-off with a gracious phrase such as, Warm regards, or All the best. Don’t simply use your first name, especially in an initial email, it lacks warmth. Don’t use ‘Sincerely,” as it is stuck in the past. Don’t use ‘Best,’ as it comes off ubiquitous and terse.
- Email signatures should be reviewed often. If you have awards or recognition in your signatures, they must be current. Any links must be tested to ensure they are still active.
Remember, your emails are a reflection of you and your firm. Every email you send adds to or detracts from your reputation. If your email is scattered, disorganized, and filled with mistakes, the recipient will be inclined to think of you as a scattered, careless, or disorganized businessperson. Other people’s opinions matter and in the professional world, their perception of you will be critical to your success. —Peter Post, director of the Burlington, Vermont-based Emily Post Institute
If Something is Important, Pick Up the Phone
Sometimes emergencies happen. You may have to reschedule a meeting last minute. You may be running late. Yes, email the client to make sure the message is sent, but also pick up the phone to further communicate a priority and ensure the message was received.
Show Interest in Others
When you are in the presence of clients or potential business relationships, be curious about the other person. Don’t dominate the conversation talking about yourself, your firm or your process. Be inquisitive about others so they become curious about you. People trust others when they believe they are showing a personal interest in them.
Remember to listen intently and do not interrupt. You want your client to feel that, in your presence, they are the only person who matters.
Mind Your Manners
Using swear words or vulgar language may have the unfortunate consequence of disappointing or offending your client, even if you think you share similar personalities. When you are in a business environment, you need to be your best. Speak as though someone from human resources is always listening. This includes avoiding social commentary, political commentary or derogatory personal views about others.
Business etiquette requires being constantly mindful that you are in a diverse environment with people you may not know fully on a personal level. You are trying to build and maintain relationships and that requires you to be aware of what you say and how you say things.
Social and After-Hours Event Etiquette
It is always gracious to be invited to events or even host a client appreciation event. If you attend a work event, the best practice is to be mindful of alcohol consumption. The safe strategy is to nurse one, perhaps two drinks, sparingly. You always want to keep your composure. If you take a client to lunch or dinner, or eat during a business meeting, use proper etiquette. Eat slowly and keep your plate and dining area tidy. Always let your guests be served first and begin eating after your client begins.
Handwritten Thank You Notes
We all know the warm feeling you get when you receive a handwritten card in the mail. It is often the first thing we open because it stands out amidst the junk mail and bills we get on a daily basis. The mere effort involved when someone puts pen to paper for you captures your attention. Not to mention the beauty of script handwriting and physical stamps.
A handwritten note makes a world of difference in client etiquette and personal distinction. Below are two opportunities to employ handwritten notes to create a gracious client experience:
After the First Meeting
Dear Peter, We would like to express our sincere gratitude for our meeting yesterday. We enjoyed learning more about you and the thoughtful vision you have for your family. We look forward to guiding you in the process. As always, feel most welcome to call if any questions arise before our next meeting. We are already working on your behalf on the next steps we discussed. Warm regards, Tiffany
Thanking a Client for Saying NO
Dear Susan, We understand we’re unable to work together right now. However, we look forward to serving you in the future. Always feel most welcome to call. Warm regards, Richard Weylman, Weylman Consulting Group
Companies and teams that create exceptional client experiences are the firms that set themselves apart in a sea of sameness. It is imperative that you develop a culture and set of standard client etiquette procedures that elevate the client experience. It is a series of thoughtful, consistent touchpoints that codify your distinct value and personalizes your client interactions. It begins by training everyone in your firm on the right practices for creating a gracious, welcoming atmosphere.
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