Know when to be proper and when to be casual

By Jennifer Giering
Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce

Business casual has taken on a new meaning. It started with the clothing and was usually reserved for Fridays. It has now reached daily communication and specifically customer service. When we are interacting with close friends or family, familiarity sets the tone. But lately, “casual” transcends proper business etiquette.

When studying the French language in high school, I learned both the casual and the formal ways of speaking. Casual tones are reserved for friends and formal was used in business, with strangers and when speaking to my elders. When in France with my exchange family, I was given the opportunity to put my grasp of the language to the test. I was introduced to the grandfather of the family and greeted him with, “Salut.” Translated, this means “Hey.” You could have heard a pin drop. My gut told me that I had made a serious mistake. I contemplated the reasoning behind the awkwardness, reached for an appropriate response and blurted out, “Bonjour, comment allez-vous?” Then I apologized 50 times. (Je m’excuse)

Fast forward to 2012, a time when “hello” is replaced with “hey” on a regular basis. “No problem” is a response used in place of “you’re welcome” and “whatevs” (translation “whatever”) is aspiring to be listed in Webster’s Dictionary. Granted, there is a time and place for everything. The unexpected use of a slang word among co-workers can result in gales of laughter. In our office, “Yo!” or “What up?” can shake us out of a stressful situation and into a fit of giggle-dom. However, when interacting with customers via email, telephone or face to face, proper business etiquette should prevail in order to be considered a respectable establishment that is dedicated to the customer’s experience.

Take the opportunity to work with your staff to identify your expectations when it comes to proper business etiquette. Engage your team to identify ways to increase customer service including greetings, closings and appropriate email content. When customers are happy, they are likely to turn into repeat customers and become a great source of referrals. Excellent customer service and proper business etiquette can create a unique competitive advantage for your business!

Au revoir, mes amis!