Courtesy and Demeanor

American businesses are ruthlessly cutting costs. Courtesy is a cost. Courtesy is being systematically eliminated as almost any customer can testify. Business courtesy requires a capability to respond intelligently to letters of inquiry, requires real people who answer phones, requires training of employees and supervision--all costly to business. It would be a mistake if the apartment management industry were to follow this anti-social devolvement.

No one wants to deal with a person who is caustic, sour, or humorless. A smile can be a very effective business tool. But if the apartment management industry has a courtesy fault, it is excessive and inappropriate exuberance. If our demeanor is to be effective it must be related to our age, our character, the customer, and the circumstances in which we are doing business. A customer deciding where to live may be tense, anxious, and suspect of sales pitches. Deciding where to live is, after all, a serious decision. The customer needs to deal with a friendly person, needs to be placed at ease, and needs to discover confidence in the sales person. Excessive exuberance, "bubbling" and "gushing" may not engender confidence. Demeanor should be cheerful, but appropriate to the circumstances.

The author has observed television news personalities reporting human tragedy while displaying an award winning Hollywood smile. That behavior is repugnant and disrespectful to the victims. One of the services currently being offered by "plastic" surgeons is disablement of the facial muscles that produce a frown!

Another factor that is wearing very thin in customer-business dealings in the United States is trite, formula expressions.

"How may I help you?" or "Have a nice day."

These expressions have been used ad nauseam in our society. They are also used inappropriately. Fast food and convenience store managements routinely require their sales personnel to utter: "Have a nice day." After the suffering clerk has repeated that expression a hundred times a day for a hundred days, it is spoken mechanically, begrudgingly, and with difficulty. It is definitely not courtesy and it is not even appropriate. "Thank you for your business" might be appropriate if it were sincerely spoken.

One of the most momentous events of the Twentieth Century was the US and Allied invasion of Europe over the beaches of Normandy during WWII. It was a bloody affair with uncertain outcome. At "departure" time tens of thousands of soldiers were crammed into pitching landing craft and airplanes, tense and fearful, and with good reason. Can you imagine the Commander, General Eisenhower, saying: "Have a nice day, men."

The apartment management company that employed the author insisted that phones be answered, "How may I help you?" which seemed odd since we did only one thing--rent apartments.

Courteous business phone calls require that both parties immediately establish identity and purpose. The person who answers the phone should state a full name and the name of the organization. The caller should respond by giving a full name and the purpose of the call. That process provides both efficiency and accountability. If you believe that revealing your full name might compromise your safety, adopt a name for business. Answering a phone with a sales pitch is not appropriate; no one has ever rented an apartment using that gimmick.

If you want to aggravate your customers and generate maximum animosity, use phone recordings. It is insulting when you are trying to do business and the only response you can get is an inane phone recording, or worse, a series of them. The author recently attempted to call a US Government office and went through a series of seven recorded messages before the system shut down. Phone recordings are used by people who do not want to communicate.

The courtesy routinely displayed by apartment management professionals is much better than that observed in other industries, but the artificial enthusiasm needs to be moderated by a modicum of common sense. Individual personalities make an interesting world. Robotic personalities make a dull world.