Diane Marcus was working in a Train the Trainer course and needed to complete a public speaking component.
The longtime teacher and U.S. Airways customer service employee turned to a book on business etiquette from Emily Post. Marcus instantly connected with the material.
"We've all had good and bad customer service experiences, and I thought that if people would just be polite to customers it would be so much better for them," says Marcus, 62. "Also, if people knew what bad customer service was costing them, they would see how important business etiquette really is."
She took that idea and started her own company, Essential Business Etiquette. The company aims to impart the value of treating customers properly, something Marcus says she learned in her own career.
"When I was teaching, I went to school and got a degree to be a principal, and when I started going on job interviews for principal, I found a whole new level of customer service and politeness," she says. "There was a change in people's tone, the way they spoke to me and acted."
Marcus also noticed that some of the most successful companies were those that took an extra step to satisfy customers. She read about how Ritz-Carlton Hotels gives its customer service employees extra money to spend on customer requests and needs.
Even a little bit of difference in customer service can help companies, Marcus says.
"It's like the difference between 211 degrees and 212 degrees," she says. "At the first nothing happens, but just add one degree and you can make steam that powers an engine."
Though Essential Business Etiquette is still new-not having been around long enough to determine annual revenue, Marcus says-she has been able to extend her services to a number of different types of companies and organizations. She offers standard seminars and customized workshops, with prices determined by the situation.
One of her early clients was a pre-K child care center with an owner who wanted employees to be more effective with parents and children.
"The owner said he wanted employees to be nice to each other and to students and parents," Marcus says. "I told him that with this training, they'll have a quality that people won't be able to put their finger on, but it will make you stand out."
Good customer service does just that, Marcus says. She notes that people usually choose a bank or doctor's office in part because of the service they receive, whether they realize it or not.
The training Marcus offers covers not only customer service etiquette but also courses for specific situations like international business travel.
"When a company sends an employee overseas, there are a lot of things they need to know and understand about the culture they're going to," says Marcus, who also taught French and Spanish during her teaching career.
Ultimately Marcus plans to write her own book on business etiquette that will become the basis for her courses. She says the company could also grow to include another employee to schedule appointments, though for now it is just her.
She expects demand for her services will increase, especially in the more competitive atmosphere that has emerged post-recession.
"I feel more and more that business etiquette is an essential part of the tool kit that companies need to be successful," she says.
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