Whatever happened to class? Be sure your small business observes good business etiquette

It’s a changing world out there. When you thank someone, they respond “No problem.” People check their emails and texts (and respond to them) during meetings or meals. People show up late with no advance call or apology. Let’s face it…etiquette and manners are missing in our new corporate culture.

I’m reminded of the John Kander and Fred Ebb long-running musical, “Chicago,” when jailhouse matron Mama Morton and vaudeville killer Velma Kelly bemoan the changing culture of loose morals and mores: “Whatever happened to ‘Please, may I’ /  And ‘Yes thank you,’ And ‘How charming?’ / Now every son of a bitch Is a snake in the grass /  Whatever happened to class?“

People don’t mean to be impersonal or callous. Everyone thrives on approval and involvement. The businessperson who treats the client, the customer, the vendor, or colleague with respect and manners gets the competitive edge. Why? People remember being thanked and appreciated. And, everyone wants to be liked.
A few weeks ago, a couple of colleagues and I met up for coffee and were sharing our summer “war stories.” Some corporate behavior shocks.

One guy shared a client with another boutique agency, which took the lead on the account. They both had serious differences in how the client’s awareness campaign should be constructed and run. The lead agency dropped this guy from the project in an email composed on a Sunday morning. “We’re going in another direction,” said the message. Shocked, but not surprised, the guy wrote a couple of his contacts he’d been working with on the client’s projects to tell them that he was no longer involved and that so-and-so would be handling the project.

One of the contacts wrote back to thank him for his work and said how much they appreciated working with him. The guy was touched that his work was appreciated; he said that he’d work with that contact again anytime.

As a public relations guy, I’m very much aware of creating and maintaining a good impression. When someone endorses me on LinkedIn, I’m quick to message them with a brief and personal “thank you.” I’ve endorsed the skills of at least 200 connections in the last 18 months. Only three have thanked me. That trio will get my referrals or business when I have the opportunity.

Jeanne Yocum, chief blogger for “Succeeding in Small Business,” and I talked about how people fail to thank others for referral business. Jeanne recalled, “I think a lot of people don’t take time to do that. I remember one time I turned over a very good client to someone else. For the hand-over we met at Dunkin Donuts. We were standing at the counter together when we ordered coffee, but she let me pay my own tab. This despite the fact that she knew I was giving her a client that did an annual summer concert series on which she would make thousands of dollars year after year!

“I can’t tell you how stunned I was by that person’s actions,” added Yocum. “This happened over 15 years ago yet when the topic of how to thank people for referrals comes up, I still immediately think of this individual’s lack of graciousness.”

There are many ways to say thank you.

Email is not always the most personal, but it beats a Facebook or LinkedIn message. If you “cc” someone’s supervisor or boss, you often score more points.

There’s a hand-written thank you note, something that seems to have gone the way of the Edsel and the do-do bird. Skip the corporate letterhead and use some classy stationery and a good ink pen. You can find thank you cards in stationery shops, office supplies companies, and even supermarkets. Don’t run the card through the meter. Put a nice postage stamp on it and handwrite the address.

A gift is often appropriate, but make sure it’s personal and shows your good taste. Don’t go overboard or too lavish. A Starbucks gift card, or a gift card to a local (to your recipient) cafe is always appropriate. Food items representative of your region work too. A music CD or tickets to a cultural event often become memorable thank you items.

I’d snagged an important new client for a colleague. When I was scheduled to meet the colleague in New York City for a morning meeting, he said, “Don’t schedule anything after our meeting.” Upon arrival in the Big Apple, he took me to lunch and a matinee to say thanks. I never forgot that.

Here are two good reads to reinforce the why of the thank you in business interactions:
Amy Rees Anderson, an entrepreneur turned mentor, wrote a compelling piece in Forbes. “People Do Business With Business They Like.”
Mark Goulston’s “How to Give a Meaningful “Thank You” in the Harvard Business Review.

A thank you cements a business relationship for a lifetime. An oversight clouds one forever.
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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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