Business etiquette is always specific to a region. While there is worldwide acceptance of what is good business custom, many countries might find the traditions of other countries confusing, if not disturbing.
Greeting the Customer
To touch or not to touch is the question. Culturally, many parts of the world shrink from doing so. The Indian way is to greet from afar with a dainty ‘Namaste’. Arabs rub noses, when not hugging each other with great warmth.
Within India too, there are levels of cultural fellowship. People of Tamil Nadu exhibit low tolerance of touching, hugging or even a lingering stare.
Contrast this with the people of North India. They are more effusive and have no hesitation in offering a burly hand in welcome. Dealing with women customers poses an even more tricky challenge.
In Muscat, it is not considered acceptable for strangers to shake hands with a woman. This might be a rule and women in banking and other sectors might be easy about mixing genders, yet one is never certain. To err on the side of caution is the safer option.
Shaking hands in greeting is a widely accepted mode. However, even in the shaking of hands, there are many unintended messages that might be communicated. If the handshake is not strong and vigorous, it might be construed as not welcoming enough. Sometimes a hand is proffered with no intention to squeeze. This is not received well. The hand should be firmly shaken not more than three times and then withdrawn.
Knock Three Times
Entering the customer’s cabin has a courtesy. Knock three times firmly but not with impatience. Many stand at the doorway and ask, ‘Can I come in?’ This is not the correct way of asking. The appropriate question is ‘May I come in?’
Do not presume to sit down in front of the customer, unless invited to do so. One could also seek permission to sit down with a ‘May I sit on this chair?’ Don’t place anything on the customer’s desk. It is not your space to occupy.
Most customers are hospitable and may offer you a cup of tea. Accept graciously, but remember to clear the used cups from the customer’s desk. Don’t imagine that there is a person to clear it. Leave the desk as clean as you first found it.
Never discuss politics, religion, family (unless you are well known to the customer) and any controversial topic.
Each person has the right to align with the party of his or her choice. Never try to convince the customer otherwise. It never works and creates only fissures. Even if the customer has the same political preference as you, avoid any discussion, as you never know how things might go out of hand.
A person’s beliefs are for the comfort of the individual and not for debate. A belief in a God, or in the absence of one, is every individual’s choice. Nothing gives anyone a right to comment or criticize the belief of a person. This must be honoured at all times.
A person’s personal life is often separate from his business entity. Unless the customer speaks of his personal life, there must be no effort to probe there. Allow the customer to keep private whatever is considered personal.