15 Steps to Wallop Your Competition

15 Steps to Wallop Your Competition

Posted Jul 06, 2010

Most people wrongly assume they're only a host when they throw a wedding, work in a restaurant, or sponsor an event. Untrue. The simple fact is that anytime someone visits your office, your department, your company, and even your car, they're your customer or client and by default, your automatic guest.  Who are you?  My host.  You want my business, but so does the company next door, down the street, or the neighborhood over. I'm not an intrusion. I'm your life preserver in an economic ocean where companies are bitten and devoured by sharks. Welcome me when I arrive at your office. Here's how. Pineapples optional, although forwarding to the office staff is smart business.

1. Make my trip to and my arrival at your office as smooth as possible. Have as standard practice directions sent to first-time visitors. Ask my preference. Would I prefer directions sent electronically or in hardcopy form through the mail?

Your job is to always make it easier on me. I've visited companies where I feel lost in one-way driving and parking hell. If your parking garage or building path is particularly tricky, use a highlighter pen to clearly mark the route I should follow. Clarify which level on the eight-level garage I should park. Of the four elevators located at the four corners of your building, which one should I take?

Once parked and elevated at the proper level, give me visual markers. Tell me if I'm going to walk down a long hallway, pass a Starbucks kiosk, and see a water fountain to my right. These nonverbal indicators reassure me I'm on the right path, alleviating possible confusion and enhancing my comfort level.

2. Consider welcome signage. I once worked at an educational institute where different people visited each day: prospective students, possible job hires, visiting personnel, and even parents footing the financial bill. In the main lobby, there was a tasteful, noticeable display stand listing the date and that day's visitors. The sign would read "July 6, 2010" with the line "ITT Technical Institute welcomes the following guests:" The sign would even have courtesy titles (Mr. Pat Heim or Ms. Taylor Jennings), eliminating bafflement over a unisex first name. Control the Controllables.

3. Your point of first contact is paramount. Unofficially dubbed the "Director of First Impressions", this person creates the initial impression of any guest's visit. Hotels have architecture, homes have curb appeal, and your office has an individual whose words and actions set the tone for the rest of the visit. As you read this, reflect who holds this position in your company. What impression do they communicate? What training have you offered to help them improve? Have you emphasized the significance of their role in your company? If not, explore, explain, and equip.

4. Your point of first contact must be versed in guest-welcoming protocol. As a guest, I should clearly state my name and the person I'm meeting at what time. An example might be, "Hello, my name is LisaMarie Luccioni and I have a 2:00 appointment with Mr. Mike Sharp of Human Resources."

An affirming welcome should be offered. Something like, "Mr. Sharp is looking forward to meeting you, Ms. Luccioni," works nicely. In all my years of conducting business, I've only been confirmed in a similar way a paltry five times. Those that did were not forgotten. Too few companies welcome appropriately, generously, and consistently. Be one that does.

5. Attend to your guest's coat and burdensome packages, bags, etc. Offer to take the visitor's coat or umbrella, for example, and if given, treat these belongings with respect. Don't nonchalantly throw someone's jacket into a wrinkly heap on any available surface. Instead, take pains to carefully drape across a hanger. Because everything communicates, invest in quality hangers and leave the flimsy wire varieties for dry cleaning pick-up. You're not the business who treats my account with second-rate materials, are you?

6. Ask if your guest would like a beverage. If this is a second visit, remember my original preferences. Record them if necessary. If I enjoyed decaf coffee with cream and sugar last time I visited (a good bet I did so), inquire if I still take the same. Wow. Not only did you welcome me, tell me I was expected, and offer to take my coat, you invited me to enjoy my preferred drink of choice. This, I declare to all who read, is how customer service should work.

7. If the host is running late (which better not be a habit), relay how long the host will be. As a guest, I should arrive approximately 15 minutes early. I won't wait longer than 30 minutes after our slated appointment and have actually walked out of lobbies where companies kept me waiting past that time. It's unfortunate because they're probably the company who needs my services the most.

My time is valuable. Don't waste it. Your competitor down the road is honoring their time commitment. If you want to (1) get me and (2) keep me as a client, smoothly get me in and graciously get me out.

8. How does your guest waiting room look? What messages are sent? After reading this blog post, take a stroll to your company's waiting area. Would you enjoy the stay? Some rooms have so depressed me, I could feel my psychological spirit take a nosedive.

Do you have enough seating spaces? Are they comfortable? Is the furniture of good quality and dusted or conversely, chipped and stained?

Color psychology impacts visitors' impressions. Research shows that rooms painted in cooler tones (blues, greens, etc.) promote formal, more reserved conversation. Rooms painted in warm hues trigger more casual, informal conversation. Which type of environment do you seek to create? Neither is necessarily better, simply different.

9. Instruct all office personnel walking through waiting rooms to acknowledge the visitor's presence. A simple eye connection, head nod, and smile are sufficient, but add a "Good Morning" or "Good Afternoon" and watch a guest's impression of your work team skyrocket like the fireworks just released this Fourth of July.

These people (we could call them points of second contact) also play a strategic role in guest perception formation. Their behavior reveals whether the company's point of first contact was an enjoyable fluke or confirms that this affirming behavior is the corporate culture norm.

10. I always enjoy when my host personally stops by the waiting room. I recognize that often assistants fulfill this role, but how lovely when the person I come to visit personally greets me. I feel important enough to warrant the gesture.  I will not forget.  

If an assistant must escort me through the hallways corridors, make appropriate introductions as we encounter people I should know. Uncertain how to make correct introductions? There is a correct way and guidelines can be found here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/201003/forgot-my-name-your-competition-didnt

Once we reach the host's office, they should either (1) be waiting by the door upon arrival or (2) immediately come out from behind their desk (barrier) and greet me with a hearty handshake, steady eye contact, and an invitation to sit down. A simple "Please have a seat, LisaMarie" with a gesture toward the determined chair is appreciated.

11. If this is not a first meeting, use our earlier discussion to make personal connection and application to me. Perhaps I mentioned I was planning a visit to Martha's Vineyard. Introduce the subject and ask how the trip went. If we earlier bonded over a love of Graeter's Peanut Butter Chip ice cream, tell me you took the kids there the other day and your daughter Caitlyn ordered the same flavor and loved it. You remembered my preferences and reinforced them during this follow-up interaction. People do business with people they like and possess commonalities. Emphasize this mutual interest.

12. Have a care regarding office table arrangements. Most offices are situated in this pattern: a desk with a chair on either side. This nonverbal arrangement can create a "me" against "them" tone. If you seek to equalize power and rank (and space allows), consider adding a circular table to your office. Everyone is equal in a circular seating arrangement.

13. When our meeting's finished, end wisely and well.  Hand me my coat, shake hands correctly (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-image-professor/200912/got-handshake-the-silent-communicator), reinforce you'll follow through on meeting outcomes by a certain date and method (email, phone call, etc.) and walk me to an exit where I can easily find my car.

14. Send a thank-you note. At a minimum, an email thanking me for my time is a nice touch. But first-time and other important meetings may demand the Godiva's of gratitude: a handwritten thank you note (spell my name correctly, please) sent no later than the next day.

15.  Follow me (ImageProfessor) on Twitter.  I post tips to transform you into the leader who knows, not the follower who's guessing.

I'm your possible customer, client, student, or endorsement.

Come and get me. 

© 2010 The Image Establishment, All Rights Reserved

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About the Author

LisaMarie Luccioni is an adjunct professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati, a business etiquette expert, and one of 100 Certified Image Professionals in the United States

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