The cashier at the grocery store waits for you to say “thank you” for giving you your change like she’s doing you a favor. You call your hotel before a trip to make sure your pet is welcome and they tell you to call back in two hours and hang up. Your client calls you after booking the job to say that they need the 17-page script recorded in two hours and, by the way, they couldn’t get the budget they promised and it is now $300 less, but they’ll make it up to you on the next job. Customer service – one-on-one human interactions—should be common sense. And yes, your mother should have taught you better manners.

In the business world, why, for the most part, don’t these common-sense interactions translate? Okay, people are busy. But if you seem too busy to talk with me, I will be unlikely to use your product or service again. Is it too much to ask to exchange a few pleasantries in the check-out line or on the phone—even if you’re calling with a complaint? I was answering a question put out to business owners on about what to do when a client doesn’t pay when I thought about this topic that is so important to everyone in business—and in our personal lives. So I’ve compiled five ways to continue to provide excellent customer service (and how to be an excellent customer as well).

Take a moment to direct a comment or question to your customer. People love to talk about themselves, so if you have a regular client or customer with whom you do business, keep up with what’s happening in their company. Congratulate them on 15 years in business, ask if they think the new CEO is going to make significant changes to the company or are they working on any fun projects this summer. Finding the right question to ask can be a game changer.

Never burn your bridges. Here’s a hard one, especially when you feel a client has treated you poorly. You might feel better for a minute by telling her off and hanging up, but there’s no going back. Even if it’s the worst client in history and you plan to never contact this client again, no badmouthing on social media. Facebook is forever, and any current or potential client can find you there, trashing one of your clients. Bad for the client, but worse for you. You never know who they know and you may have lost yourself some future business.

Kill them with kindness. Your invoice hasn’t been paid in five months and you’re steaming mad. So take several deep breaths and call the company. Most likely the person you speak with first, or even second, will NOT be the person who can make a decision to write the check. Keep calm until you get to the right person, even if it takes awhile. Now—one more deep breath, and say, “Gosh, I was hoping my invoice might have been processed by now. You must be having a really busy summer. That’s great for you.” Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. It’s easy for them to hang up on someone who has lost her temper; less so on someone who is pleasant and measured. And if money is tight, which vendor might they pay first? Right.

Be memorable – in a good way. Make them chuckle, tell a (short) story on yourself, or just be really positive. Think of how they can hang up the phone (or leave the meeting) with a smile on their faces. Be easy to work with. It’s contagious.

Always go above and beyond. Finish the project ahead of schedule. Give it to them in two different formats if they didn’t specify (Word and PDF or MP3 and WAV, for example). Proof thoroughly, copy edit, listen, read through 7 times if you have to, making sure there are no mistakes on your end. There will always be parts of a project that are beyond your control. Make the parts within your control as good as you can make them. 

You’ve heard it before, in business and in life, be kind. Treat people well even when you don’t get that back. Pay it forward.

Oh yeah, and thanks, Mom, for teaching me that.

—robin rowan

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