By Chuck Violand

November 10, 2014

In a business climate that seems to be obsessed with companies finding ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors, it’s easy to let our imaginations and our budgets spin out of control. I find myself doing this all the time.

A conversation with one of our clients may have uncovered a simple, common sense differentiator that could truly help build your company’s competitive advantage.
The differentiator I’m talking about was driven home when I found him continually referring to me as “sir.” At first I was offended because I thought he was insinuating I was old. After a while, though, I realized he called just about everybody he talked to “sir” as his way of showing respect to the person he was addressing. With this simple gesture he was demonstrating uncommon courtesy.

The principal of uncommon courtesy holds true whether we’re talking about external or internal customers, and there are lots of different ways that it can be expressed. Here are a few that come quickly to mind.

Say hello…first. Why wait for someone else to say hello first when this simple gesture could open a very important conversation?

Use a person’s name. Dale Carnegie taught us years ago that the most magical sound a person can hear is their own name. Make some magic.

Ask permission. Even when you know the answer will be yes, asking permission demonstrates uncommon courtesy.

Address people using the title Mr., Mrs., Ms. It seems that using titles in conversations has gone out of style. Maybe that’s why it’s so noticed and appreciated when heard.

Smile. Often and sincerely. Nothing increases your face value more than a smile.

Make eye contact. Making eye contact with someone during a conversation demonstrates sincerity and builds trust.

Say thank you. People frequently don’t hear it the first time you say thank you, so say it again. It’s worth repeating.

Say you’re welcome. Avoid using the more casual response “no problem” when someone thanks you. Saying “you’re welcome” polishes the conversation.

Show interest in the other person. King Hussein of Jordan was known for greeting his guests by name and knowing something about them. If a king can do that, surely we can as well.

Offer a kind word. Don’t be falsely complimentary. But having a kind word when you talk with someone has a way of making people enjoy being around you.

Some of these might sound a little old fashioned, but I’d rather err on the side of being outdated than being cavalier or disrespectful.

One of the great things about this approach of common courtesy is that it costs so little to do. It doesn’t require in-depth market research, focus groups to learn what your customers want, or extensive training for your people, but it could have a significant impact on someone’s life and on your business.