In the age of AI, technology, social media, and disruption, it’s easy to lose sight of simple, time-tested ways to operate more efficiently and grow your business. A number of years ago I wrote a blog on this same subject, and much to my amazement, the ideas still ring true and deserve attention once again.
1. Make courtesy company policy
Is anyone civil today? Emily Post’s first book on etiquette was published in 1922 and, despite the passage of 95 years, I maintain that courtesy hasn’t gone out of style. Insist that all phone calls, e-mail, and correspondence be answered promptly, and with key words such as “please,” “thank you,” and, “you’re welcome.” Educate your staff about company policy on courtesy. Be clear about the consequences of failure to adhere to policy (reprimand, impact on bonuses, etc.).
Be sure to respond to all communications in a timely manner. The failure to take the time to follow up can cost you much more time in resolving problems that can arise or tracking down lost opportunities because no one responded.
My pet peeve: not receiving a “thank you” when I respond to e-mail queries from people with tax or other small business questions. I take the time to answer their questions and sadly almost never receive the courtesy of a response.
Beyond a “thank you,” make it company policy to show civility and respect to everyone. A friend of mine was sneered at a fancy boutique because she wasn’t dressed in designer clothes. This experience was conveyed to me and many others, spreading the word that this establishment doesn’t show respect to everyone.2
2. Seek suggestions for improvement
The old wooden suggestion box may be impractical today with remote workers and online customers, but you can still ask for suggestions on ways you can do things better. Just ask…
- Staff to make weekly observations about ways to cut costs or otherwise improve things.
- Customers to periodically respond to your solicitation for suggestions, such as a card enclosed with an order or an online survey.
Provide incentive for making good suggestions. Examples: cash, discounts, or other rewards discussed later.
3. Reward employees for a job well done
In a tight job market every little thing you can do to retain workers is important, and showing appreciation to someone doing a good job is never out of style. An employee who does more than the position requires deserves a bonus. Cash is always appreciated. For example, Bonusly provides users with an allowance to give out to colleagues in small increments to recognize great work. Debit cards for buying gas or a monthly transit pass are other cash-like rewards. But cash doesn’t have to be the only reward for employees who shine. Other options:
- Time off—especially if a salaried employee has put in a lot of extra time on a special project. (Caution: You can’t give comp time to workers subject to minimum wage rules.)
- Plaques or certificates of recognition. It’s not dated to use a wall of recognition, employee of the month, and other public designations for valued employees.
- Tickets to the theater or sporting events.
- Lunch or dinner on the company.
4. Keep control of the checks
Online banking and using an accountant or bookkeeper inside or outside the company to handle monthly bills may relieve a business owner of considerable work. However, it’s naïve to think that errors or even embezzlement can’t happen to you. It’s wise business practice for the owner to personally review checking activities every month. This should be done before anyone else has access to the banking information. For example, get paper statements that you open monthly so you can review all the deposits made and checks written, even if your financial person then reconciles statements online.
5. Clichés count
A cliché is defined in the English Oxford Dictionary as “a phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.” However, clichés have become ingrained in the vernacular because they represent truths. You may want to eliminate them from your vocabulary (a Fortune article last year suggested 10), but I think they are still relevant to business practices today:
- “The customer is always right.”
- “First come, first served.”
- “Think outside the box.”
- “Deal with it.”
- “Before you launch a new product, see if it will fly.”
- “Satisfaction guaranteed.”
Going old school (a cliché) often makes sense. Review your business practices and your business culture, and think: what would your parent, mentor, former boss, or teacher have done in a particular situation or about a particular practice? It may just work for you now.