In today's user-centered and highly competitive business environment, demonstrating a lack of professionalism in your interactions with clients, vendors, and consumers can do more than garner a few negative online reviews. Indeed, many businesses have crashed and burned in a spectacularly public manner after responding to criticism with juvenile barbs or even threats, the recent closure of Amy's Baking Company being one of the more visible examples.
But professionalism involves more than just taking critique with a smile, and should extend to treating all with whom you interact in a business capacity with respect and courtesy. Read on for some more reasons you'll want to place "professionalism" at the top of the list of cornerstones for your business, as well as several tips and tricks you can employ to improve your reputation among other business owners and members of the community.
What does "professionalism" mean in today's business environment?
When you consider the term "professional," you may harken back to days when embossed business cards, shiny cufflinks, and a professionally-matted degree from an Ivy League school. However, few of today's savvy consumers are likely to be impressed by style over substance. Professionalism has evolved to encompass the ability to solve problems and fill unmet needs in a responsible, honest, and genuine way.
Professionalism often goes hand-in-hand with a strong work ethic and sense of corporate responsibility. But there can be some distinctive differences between one's personal work ethic and corporate ethics, and fostering one to the exclusion of the other could compromise your reputation as an entrepreneur or business owner.
For example, promoting the social responsibility of your business by emphasizing your commitment to reducing the waste you produce while simultaneously looking the other way as your employees engage in time theft could send a decidedly mixed message to customers, investors, and prospective employees. On one hand, you're publicly announcing your intent to avoid the waste of physical resources; on the other, you're permitting your business's human capital to be squandered by allowing employees to devote their time to non-business ventures while on the clock.
Instead, you'll need to ensure that you're focusing on all aspects of professionalism, including a strong work ethic for yourself and your employees, a sense of corporate responsibility that focuses on giving back to the community and minimizing any potentially negative impact of the products or services you provide, and a social presence that attracts consumers and clients.
What can you do to foster an atmosphere of professionalism in your own business?
When it comes to implementing ethical and professional ideals holistically, you'll want to keep a few tips in mind.:
- Focus on consistency – Just about every successful business has one common trait: consistency. Even if you switch up your merchandise on a regular basis, your customers will be subconsciously comforted by knowing they can expect the same level of service and responsiveness every time they visit.
Smart POS systems can help you implement this high-level consistency; not only can they help manage your inventory so you never run out of stock of your most popular items, they'll allow your customers to check out speedily and even opt for an emailed receipt in lieu of a paper one.
- Minimize jargon – Nothing can be more frustrating for customers than facing a wall of incomprehensible text when trying to do some research on a potential purchase. While you may think that using industry-specific language in your promotional materials or sales speeches can help you present more of a professional air, in many cases, overusing jargon can have the exact opposite effect.
Instead, you'll want to make sure you're communicating in a way that can be understood by someone who has no background or knowledge of your business or the service you provide. In addition, it can often be helpful to keep your written communications at a 7th or 8th grade level; many experts estimate this as the "average" reading level for adults, and staying within this threshold will ensure your words reach their widest possible audience.
- Be genuine –Minimizing your use of jargon can help your customers or clients better understand what you're providing, but misleading them--whether purposely or inadvertently--will quickly eliminate any sense of trust. While it may be tempting to provide an overly optimistic time frame to a customer to gain an edge over your competition, failing to have the promised repairs or services finished on time will diminish your credibility.
This means you'll want to keep qualities like tact and social grace in the forefront of your mind when making hiring and firing decisions. Working with your employees on ways they can communicate unpleasant or undesirable information in an honest and appropriate manner will ensure that your customers always feel they're being fairly dealt with.
By being clear, forthright, and genuine in your interactions with your employees, customers, and the general public, you'll be able to curate a positive reputation for professionalism. This reputation, once established, can carry your business through any turbulent times you may encounter and can allow you to do things like raise prices or change policies without losing customers.