I am not a consumer expert, but I am a business owner and a decent human being. I have seen first hand in recent years, how people have lost their customer etiquette and frankly, good manners. In our small, family run business, we have sometimes been left shocked and hurt by the way people have communicated with us and saddened that we now live in times where it seems okay to be curt, abrupt, overly-demanding and rude to one another.
I can’t help but feel that maybe this is a sad reflection on what now passes as acceptable in our society. This is particularly evident in our age of the internet, which allows consumers instant access to what they want, all from the comfort of their own four walls. This behaviour seems to feed into this increasingly bad practice of impersonal, faceless consumerism, which is turning some people into not very desirable (I say this lightly) customers.
As consumers, we have been armed with a wide range of tools to make sure that companies treat us properly from start to finish and we are more aware of our consumer rights than ever before. However, in demanding that businesses who take our money must act responsibly, respectfully and honestly towards us, should it not be the case that we as consumers behave the same in return?
Here are my humble top five tips for how to be a better customer. I would like to think that these tips are very obvious to most people but sadly, there are some folks who still reside in oblivion.
1. Politeness goes a long way…
Online enquiries are usually the preferred method of enquiry for customers, as it saves on phone calls and is especially great for dealing with international companies. In some cases, it is the only way to communicate with businesses. But why when writing an email or filling out an enquiry form would you not use the same manner in which you would speak to someone in person? Start with a greeting, politely enquire about what it is you want to know/do, not adding too much unnecessary detail and signing off cordially. It would do good to remember that your response is going to be responded to by a fellow human being as much as we sometimes may have our doubts! So only speak in a way that you would if the person was stood in front of you. Surely, this goes without saying?
2. …Gratitude, even further.
Everyone shops around – it is part and parcel of being a consumer. The internet makes it so easy to be in contact with lots of different companies at the same time, ensuring that the information you want is right at your fingertips within the time frame that you want it, i.e now! We have the freedom to pick and choose whatever we want with the click of a button. However, bearing in mind again that a human being has replied to you and taken time to tailor a response to your query, should you not respond to them, even just one line, to thank them for their time but let them know ‘no thank you.’? Particularly, for small companies who have invested precious and valuable time in responding to you. Sometimes people are so hungry for information, so keen for a response that they don’t think to thank the person for their time/efforts in responding.
3. Master the art of complaining
Sometimes, things do not go according to plan. Products are not what you expected, services are not delivered in the way you would have wanted them to be. However, before you make your complaint known, why not stop for a minute to check that you definitely have something to complain about? Not liking a meal in a restaurant may not instantly give you a reason to complain, especially if the products are fresh, the meal is well-cooked, and served nicely. It may just well be that your tastebuds on this occasion did not agree with your choice of dish. There are times when a dislike of something does not constitute a complaint, but perhaps could be passed on as feedback.
Once you have established that you have a bonafide complaint, you should make it known immediately to the person in charge, or the most senior person available. It is a courtesy (I say this lightly, too), to tell a company you are unhappy with a product/service of theirs before you make a complaint about them on an external source, such as Trip Advisor or the equivalent type of industry platform or forums. It is not fair to a company or an individual to complain about them but not to them, which means not giving them a chance to a) respond to your complaint b) offer an explanation c) offer some redress or compensation. Again, this may seem obvious but there are some people who do not follow this line of action.
4. Stay calm
Losing your temper, swearing, being rude or making personal comments about the person you are complaining to, serves only to negate your complaint. Doing any of these actions, turns your complaint on its head and makes the situation become about your behaviour rather than what the original complaint was about. Look at the bigger picture. In the grand scheme of things, is your complaint really enough to warrant you almost having a heart attack?
5. Sing their praises
Too many companies and businesses only hear from customers when they’ve got something bad to say. If you’ve had a good service, let them know – let everyone know! Especially for small and growing companies, your feedback is vital to them.
So there it is. My advice, for what it’s worth. We should all try to remember that most people who run businesses are by and large good, decent people who are not out to rip their clients off, but simply to earn an honest living. Start any relationship with a business/service provider as you mean to go on. The more you can remember that ultimately there is a fellow human being on the other end of an email, the better results you can have with your client/business relationship. I for one, am more likely to go above and beyond for a client who has been nothing but polite and courteous in their dealings with me, than someone who has been curt or grumpy from the outset.
So come on folks, it’s not rocket science. Let’s get back to basics and remind ourselves of how it is that we should interact with one another, not just through business transactions but in life in general.