How friendly is your business?
Our family got together for the Fourth of July weekend in Kansas City. As we were talking, the subject of politeness and friendliness came up. Specifically about how polite and friendly people were in different areas of the country.
Here are a couple of stories.
When my daughter Katie and her husband were working as nurses in San Jose, Calif., Katie told me a story about a patient of hers. The patient asked "you're not from around here are you?" Of course Katie replied no she wasn't, but then she asked why. Was it her accent? I am not sure Iowans have much of a discernible accent. Was it the way she looked? Having lived in Iowa my entire life, I am not sure there is a look of a typical Iowan, especially wearing nurse's scrubs.
The reason the patient was sure that Katie wasn't from California was that she was too nice! It didn't surprise her that Katie was from Iowa, as apparently people from the Midwest have a reputation for being nice.
The other story happened while we were in Kansas City. Going through a door, I was doing what I usually do and held the door for the next person to pass through. Daughter Jenni made the observation that holding the door for another is not a universal courtesy. She noted that in Iowa, it is not uncommon to have a door held for her. As a matter of fact, some people go out of their way to hold the door.
In Chicago, where Jenni lives, the courtesy is not quite the same. Instead of holding a door, if they notice you are a step or two behind, they might give the door an extra push so it stays open for a fraction longer. Not the same as holding it, but better. She then observed that in larger cities on the coasts there are people who will notice you a step or two behind will more than likely make sure the door closes before you get there, which made us all smile.
As small business owners and managers, we have control over how customer friendly our businesses are. We can decide whether we are going to be "Iowa friendly" or "big city friendly." Our customers have choices of where to spend their dollars. In the banking business, money is money and you have many options in town from large, nationwide banks to smaller community banks to options on the internet. Some people will buy only on price, but I believe the vast majority of customers, both businesses and individuals, choose to do business with people who are friendly, likeable and nice.
So how do you know if you are nicer and friendlier than your competition? For years I have advocated mystery shopping. Each time we hire a new employee, I send them to three other banks in town to do a mystery shop. This helps them understand our own mystery shopping program better and sets an example for how friendly we need to be. You can do the same for your business. Have a friend test your employees, have your employees test your competitors. Have a program to see how helpful, friendly and just plain nice you are, and then work to improve. It has to be sincere, because people can see through phony nice in a heartbeat.