For three weeks, I limped around with a pain across the top of my left foot that just wouldn’t go away. I made it through five days on my feet (two workshops and an active vacation), but with no sign on improvement, I decided to visit a local orthopedist.

As it turned out, it was a good thing I went through this experience, because, as often happens, it reminded me why I do the work I do.

I called the doctor’s office and an unhappy-sounding scheduling assistant treated me as if I were a huge intrusion into his day. He was abrupt, unsympathetic and annoyed when it took me a couple of seconds to give him precisely the information he demanded. He advised me that the doctor I wanted to see wouldn’t be available this century and offered some alternatives. And he became noticeably agitated when I wasn’t satisfied with the first available appointment. After all, who did I think I was? He worked for a doctor and was very busy. I was just one more bother in his bother-filled day.

When I arrived at the office, the staff were annoyed that I didn’t notice the big hand-written sign at the window on the right that said “Sign in here” and that I thought it was OK to approach the busy person sitting behind the desk on the left instead. When I went to the person on the right, she handled our entire transaction — from the clipboard to the insurance card and picture ID — without ever looking up at me.

Believe it or not, your staff could be treating your clients this way, too. And no matter how good you are at what you do or how kind and considerate you may be, your clients may be thinking “I’m not coming here again.”

Maybe — as was the case with this doctor — there are so many people waiting to see you that you can afford not to know how your staff is behaving. But if you’re like most professionals, it matters that clients aren’t staying with you and will tell others to stay away, as well.

If you want to grow your business, you need to be certain you’ve spelled out for your staff how to handle the phones and how to greet people and you need to be sure that they’re following your system. This means listening in on a prospect call or having clients report to you how they’ve been treated while waiting for you. Don’t assume that because you’re being treated well by your assistant that she is treating your clients the same way.

It also means spelling out the basics for your team with a formal procedure which includes the following basics:

  • Identify the office and yourself. Everyone who answers a phone should use his or her name.
  • Be pleasant. No matter how frenetic your office may be, no caller should feel as if she is interrupting someone’s busy day.
  • Offer to help. The identification should be followed by “How may I help you?” or “How may I direct your call?” or something else that’s genuinely helpful.
  • Don’t rush the caller. No matter how busy you may be, clients want to ease their stress, not to confront yours.
  • Own the call. Until the caller is connected elsewhere, the person answering the phone must be responsible for the caller’s experience.

Nearly an hour later, when I finally got to see the orthopedist, I found him to be extremely competent and genuinely nice. He informed me that I had fractured a bone, but I wasn’t willing to face his staff for a follow-up appointment. I ended up taking my broken foot elsewhere.

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Sandy Schussel is a speaker, business trainer and coach who helps sales teams develop systems to win clients. He is the author of The High Diving Board and Become a Client Magnet. For more information, go to www.sandyschussel.com.