Why courtesy in business goes further than superficial niceties

Here, David Cliff discusses why courtesy in business extends beyond acknowledging clients' birthdays and promotional pens.

Courtesy in business remains, in my view, one of the most important attributes of mature, effective business practice. Just as quality can be communicated in all sorts of ways, through such things as standards in printing materials, procedures, guidelines and accreditations, the list goes on, courtesy also is represented in so many forms that are often subtle and understated.

It’s fair to say that where quality goes to the centre of confidence in the purchase of goods or services, courtesy extends to the nature and quality of the psychological contract with the customer. In this, we are talking about the fundamental principles of respect and imbued worth for those with whom we are doing business.

Courtesy needs to be differentiated from so many instances where it is used as part of the sales process. For example, a courtesy call is rarely a courtesy call in a pre-transaction phase; it is usually a point of contact masquerading as an attempt to do business. There’s no harm in this, but it is perhaps more important that when we are attempting to sell things we should be explicit about that. Then people know where they are with us and the nature of the psychological transaction can develop in a clear space.

In business, I would argue, courtesy extends beyond the typical acknowledging clients’ birthdays et cetera. It is about demonstrating genuine value and human interests in individuals. It is not about providing promotional pens and the like. In fact courtesy is a serious business. In negotiating a recent partnership arrangement, between two organisations, it became apparent that one person had developed reservations. Understanding where the concerns were and dealing with them was an important part of the process and required sensitivity towards the party concerned. As that party became more and more reluctant, a reciprocal courtesy of that party saying they had changed their mind was not forthcoming. One would hope that people are fairly grown-up about business transactions. The reality is many people operate different programs in their heads when they are unhappy with something, tolerating something or just plain out of their depth. At this point courtesy involves extending support to that person, including an explicit and direct offer of a way out with dignity. It respects difference, and makes for good business.

A constantly-evolving dynamic

Courtesy is about understanding not just good manners and a reasonable level of etiquette towards people, it is a genuine human understanding that recognises and consistently values throughout all processes, irrespective of whether the customer converts to a sale, becomes a client, or whatever else. In this context, it becomes part of the art of living well and is a constantly evolving, improving dynamic as we become more rounded individuals and, coincidentally, more effective in business.

We are talking, therefore, about a natural set of personal values that one chooses to deliberately and thoughtfully incorporate in one’s dealings with other people. It defines one. It is not part of a sales toolkit or performance repertoire reduced to simple ritualistic conventions. It is an approach that comes from genuine human interest and understanding and recognising that people are not always capable of reciprocity.

In this respect, courtesy is not something that oils the wheels of a business process, although inevitably it does, it is a fundamental presentation of self within one’s business that offers a hallmark of interpersonal genuineness and respect, whether one is dealing with customers, suppliers, complainants or just the genuine public. In this latter respect, it reflects the best of business ethics and how your business is seen in the community.

Courtesy is therefore an evolved set of attributes which aren’t universally present sometimes, especially when individuals and businesses are stuck in “survival” mode. In such situations, as in the primal world, the self comes first and all other secondary. Courtesy, when experienced by colleagues, customers and the wider community contradicts this and reflects not only business maturity, but higher thinking values that are simply not present with companies and individuals who are out there simply ‘getting by’.

It is experienced subliminally by individuals as imbuing confidence and implying success and, yes, adds to a qualitative experience of the transaction that is imbued with greater meaning. Business becomes meaningful rather than simply transactional.

David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken

Further reading on business courtesy

David Cliff

Dannie Maggio

David Cliff is managing director of Gedanken and chairman of the Institute of Directors’ Northern Sector Group.

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