Appearing more likeable to customers is a skill that can be honed. Here’s how.


Do your customers like you? What about your pumpers — are they likeable?

Maybe you think likeability doesn’t matter, believing in the “I’m here to win, not make friends” school of business. You might want to rethink that.

More and more evidence is showing that life is one big popularity contest. While that might be your high school self’s worst nightmare, it appears to be demonstrably true.

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Think about it in the context of your septic pumping business. You may or may not have the best talent in town, but even if you do, there is no true empirical way for your customers to measure that. Given two equally qualified options, people break that tie by deciding whom they like more.

In fact, a recent study showed that credibility is very closely linked to likeability for most individuals. We tend to mentally discredit people we don’t really like and vice versa.

Given that explanation, it is clear that the likeability of your pumpers could be critically important to your success.

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Use likeability to your benefit

There is power in understanding this paradigm. Luckily, likeability is something you can learn and train for rather than something you are born with.

Tim Sanders popularized this idea in his book, The Likeability Factor. Sanders relates likeability to the following factors:

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  • Friendliness — Are you able to communicate in a warm and pleasant way?
  • Relevance — Are you able to connect with other people’s wants and needs?
  • Empathy — Can you recognize and acknowledge other people’s feelings?
  • Realness — Do you have integrity and authenticity standing behind you?

It is easy to see how all of those things are hugely important in the pumping industry because they all revolve around trustworthiness. If you or your pumpers are showing up on the job without these key factors, there is a good chance it’s holding your company back from success.

If you can harness likeability in your business — hire and train for it — there are ways that this success relates directly to your bottom line:

  • Referrals — You’re never as good or as bad as people say you are. But likeability makes people more prone to forgive mistakes. Getting referrals is easier if your customers genuinely like you. They want to see you succeed. More importantly, if they don’t like you, they are going to spread negative word-of-mouth. That is a frustratingly powerful way of losing business.
  • Credibility — When you are liked, your insights are taken more seriously. In the pumping business, that translates into a boost in your credentials. In short, people will trust your opinion and diagnosis. They are less likely to feel the need to get a second opinion. This leads to a better close rate and better sales numbers.

Learned behavior

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The good news is that likeability is mostly about actions. It is possible to train yourself and your employees to be more charming and likeable. This may seem like an odd place to focus skill-based learning, but for pumping service in particular, it’s a critical mission.

Here are some key behavioral elements for appearing likeable:

  • Make eye contact, but not too much. This is a delicate balance. Complete lack of eye contact is considered untrustworthy, like you are hiding something. Too much can be deemed “creepy” behavior. How much is the right amount? It’s better to go for “longer glances” rather than “intense stares” says one expert.
  • Smile. Especially upon greeting someone, it is important to smile. Don’t downplay the importance of a genuine grin — one that tries to reach your eyes. It will help give an appearance that you love your job and are there to help.
  • Speak enthusiastically. Sometimes what you say isn’t quite as important as how you say it. Speaking with confidence and enthusiasm is another cue to customers that you enjoy your job and they are in capable hands.
  • Show respect. Figure out the common goal, and keep the tone of the conversation cooperative. You are there to help, after all. Don’t belittle their knowledge or other people’s work, and withhold any other judgments. Whether you’re doing work for a mayor or an individual on a fixed income, the quality and tone of the communication should remain the same.
  • Be present during conversation. Make sure that when speaking with the customer, you aren’t multitasking. Put away your phone, ask them engaging questions and listen without presumption. It’s about them, not you.
  • Find common ground. People like people who seem trustworthy and authentic and who seem to have things in common with them. Caution employees, though, about getting too personal. There is a professional line that can be easy to cross when you are at someone’s home and in their personal space. Luckily, if you’re there to work on a septic concern, that gives you immediate common ground. Work with employees on examples of safe versus unprofessional topics to discuss with customers.

No one is born with these conversational skills, although it does come easier for some than others. The best thing to do is hire for these traits, which you should be able to note quickly. The way people present at an interview should be very similar to how they present to customers. So take likeability into consideration when making a hire.

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Word of warning: Training on likeability can seem a bit awkward at first, like you are coaching someone’s personality. It is important that your pumpers understand why you are focused on these skills, just as you focus on more technical skills. This is a business skill and one that could lead to serious improvement in the bottom line.

Think of likeability as insurance against a bad day. It will help your customers cut you some slack and help your profits soar.

Branding also plays a role in the likeability factor. Read more here.

About the Author
Anja Smith is managing partner for All Clear Plumbing in Greenville, South Carolina. She can be reached at anja@acpupstate.com.


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