The Meaning of Respect and Courtesy

John Krautzel
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In saturated marketplaces, it can be difficult for businesses to gain the competitive edge. Unless your company is fortunate to have proprietary ownership over a specific niche, there's always going to be another company offering the same product or service. Exceptional customer service and strong branding are the factors that set one business apart from another. Any customer service representative knows the importance of respect and courtesy to some degree. Let's dig a little deeper.

It's easy to view courtesy and respect as the same. After all, when it comes down to it, they both mean treating other people the way you want to be treated. In a professional setting, however, it's important to examine both words a little bit closer. In the world of customer service, recognizing the subtleties of both words, as well as how the definitions may change according to the person being referenced, can be an important step for customer service professionals.

Courtesy is generally more straightforward than respect. To be courteous essentially just means to be polite. In a customer service setting, you don't let your bad mood trickle through into a conversation. You maintain a friendly tone and choose your words carefully. While treating someone with courtesy is certainly part of respecting someone, it's also more surface-level. It's usually already ingrained in those who work in the customer service industry.

Respect is a bit more in-depth. It's not always inherent, and it's easier to accidentally disrespect someone than it is to inadvertently be discourteous. Outside of a customer service setting, respect has more to do with admiration and reverence. However, in a professional setting, the definition morphs. You're no longer respecting people because of achievements or skills. You're respecting them simply because they're current or potential customers.

"Respect is earned, not given" is a common phrase that simply doesn't apply in a customer service setting. In fact, it's often the exact opposite. Sometimes you may need to give respect even when you're being treated disrespectfully (and discourteously). Naturally, that can be difficult. That's why it's important to understand what exactly respect means in this context. After all, you're not going to praise a person's athletic prowess or IQ score to keep him happy.

In a customer service scenario, respect is more about empathizing with customers, and trying to really understand how they feel and why they feel that way. It's putting yourself in their shoes. It's truly listening to them, rather than just waiting for them to finish speaking. This can be challenging to do authentically at times, but it really improves your customer support skills. It can take time to find a genuine appreciation for people, even those who are less than friendly, but a true respect for your fellow person goes a long way in customer service.

There are going to be times when you find that giving basic courtesy is difficult, let alone sincere respect. It may take time, but if you actively try to treat people with respect and courtesy, it starts to come more naturally. That's the difference between a competent customer service professional and an outstanding one. Eventually, you find that respect is contagious, and if you give it, you get it back.

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