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The Ruder the Caller, the Gentler You Should Be

By Thelma Domenici
For the Journal
          Dear Thelma: I answer the phones for a large business very much in the public eye. People who call seem to feel it's OK to "vent" at the person who answers the phone. I have received all types of phone calls, many of them insulting to the business or to me personally if I can't give the caller the answer or provide the service he or she wants.
        The hostility upsets me, and I resent being spoken to that way. How should I respond to such callers in a way that won't cause further hostility and might even inspire them to become customers — without seeming to promise more than I can deliver?
        A: I'm sorry that you are experiencing such rudeness. Try to keep your cool by keeping in the front of your mind that you are possibly that caller's first introduction to the face of the business. You are vitally important in creating, building or mending a relationship with that customer.
        While it's never right for a caller to be rude, realize that he does not understand the nature of the business the way you do. Challenge yourself to be a gentle guide despite the caller's attitude.
        When you get a strange request, do your best to help the caller feel heard and offer to do what it is in your power to do. That may be to forward the call on to someone who can help or to offer another avenue of pursuit. Your kind direction alone may be enough to calm such callers and even win them over.
        For those making calls that may be unpleasant, do your best to take reactionary emotion out of the call. If you have a problem, you can use your intellect to explain it calmly and without hostility. The person on the other end of the line deserves that courtesy from you.
        Dear Thelma: I completely forgot my hair appointment last week and realized it about an hour later. I called immediately and apologized. My stylist graciously accepted my apology and rescheduled me. I feel so bad. Is there anything more I should do?
        A: You did the right thing. Owning up to that kind of a mistake right away is always the best thing you can do. Your call also let your stylist know that you do value her time.
        I spoke to my own stylist about how he feels when a client cancels an appointment and doesn't give notice. He said: "When people do that, it's like stealing money from me. When it happens regularly, I really do not want them to return. However, I am very understanding with clients when the last-minute call is for a good reason, and if I am running late, I try to notify my clients."
        He added that clients expect respect from the person providing their personal services, but that respect must be mutual. We go to these professionals — to style our hair, perfect our nails, or care for our skin — because they are experts. We should treat them with the esteem they deserve.
        I'm often asked to comment on tipping the owner of a salon or nail studio who provides the service. In the past, that sort of tipping wasn't the norm. But in today's service-oriented society, those tips are appropriate. My manicurist says customers don't necessarily need to tip, but she always appreciates when they do.
        I really appreciate my hair stylist and my manicurist. I like that consistency they provide in my life. These people are important parts of our lives. It's important that we treat them that way.
        Mutual respect and good manners never go out of style.
        Have a question about etiquette? You can ask it at www.askthelma.com. Thelma Domenici is CEO of Thelma Domenici & Associates, offering corporate coaching and contemporary social skills development programs to all ages.

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