Entrepreneurs: Be Like a Doctor and Have a Great Bedside Manner

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Q: I was in a high-end specialty store recently and I could not believe how poorly I was treated. The staff acted as if I was doing them a favor by coming into their store and that they had better things to do than help me. I don’t understand how a business like that stays in business.


A: My brother once made a statement that is apropos of this sort of thinking, which does seem oddly frequent in some specialty retailers: “I should not be thanking them after I check out, they should be thanking me.”

The good news of course is that most small businesses are the opposite of this. Indeed, the one true advantage that a small business has over its better financed, bigger rivals is that we can in fact be more personal and personable. People like to frequent small business because of that first word – small. To bastardize E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

A few years ago, I needed to get a new accountant. The one I had had moved away and I thereafter began to do my own taxes. Given my legal background, I figured it wouldn’t be that tough.

I was right . . . until I was wrong.

It was two years ago at around 11:15 pm on April 14th when I realized that my business had long since outgrown my limited abilities and that I needed to have an expert handle these things. So I filed an extension and began interviewing accountants the next day.

The first few I met were fine, no big deal, but no one I would hire.

And then I met David. He was so unlike the other tax professionals I had just met. Yes, he was smart and knew his stuff, but more than that, he made me feel comfortable. He was easy to talk to, he cracked some jokes, and he explained things in such a direct, easy, assured way that I felt like I would be in great hands if I hired him.

It turns out I was right.

Not only were my taxes done professionally, but just as importantly, he made the process stress-free

Not only were my taxes done professionally, but just as importantly, he made the process stress-free (or at least as stress-free as it could be given we were talking about money, the IRS, and so forth.) David has what the medical profession calls ‘a great bedside manner.’

Of course medical professionals understand that the way you treat patients emotionally may be as important as the way you treat them physically. David got that too.

What has dawned on me since is that the best small businesses all get this.

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Think about the last salesperson who really annoyed you. What was it that you didn’t like? I know for me, it was the woman in a store where I was buying a present who kept trying to upsell me. Once, OK. Three times, not so OK and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So finally, she hit the Daily Double: She was both obtuse and she had a lousy bedside manner.

Next, think about the last salesperson who rocked it. What did he or she do right? She was probably personable, helpful, really tried to understand your needs, and tried to help you solve your problem.

Having a great way about you, a manner that is friendly and helpful and makes it easy to do business with you will, well, make people want to continue to do business with you.

Needless to say, there are plenty of people in the corporate world who know this and have a great bedside manner as well. They go out of their way to do right by their customers and do the best job they can. Bravo (as Bert Cooper might have said.) The difference is that the small business may live or die by these sorts of interactions.

If you treat people right, have a great bedside manner, they will remember you and become your cheerleader and customer. But be mediocre, and watch them look for someone else to give their precious business to.

Today’s Tip: How safe is your workplace? It is National Safety Month, and according to the third annual workplace safety survey by Staples (a company I do some business with), only about half of all employees feel that their office is prepared for an emergency. So here is a cool, interactive infographic and quiz that can help you both assess the safety of your office and help you make your workplace safer.