Coming out the other side of the current economic crisis with your business intact will be no mean feat. So when business is scarce, how do you ensure customers choose yours?

Let's start with chipped cups, scuffed shoes and Bobby Charlton-style comb-overs, for there are two types of company - those that think everything matters and those that do not.

If you offer a prospective client a refreshing brew from a cup with more chips than Tiger Woods, it's not a good start: if you're not bothered about offering a potential client a possible bacterial infection it doesn't bode well for the care you'll take when working with them. Similarly, when I'm in a shoe shop I observe the state of the assistant's footwear. If they look scruffy, worn or as if the laces have been chewed by a dog then I'm likely to turn on my heels. And finally, does your hairdresser sport a Bobby Charlton-style comb-over? No, mine neither.

The bottom line is that appearance suggests a certain standard of behaviour.

In the 1980s, US researchers demonstrated how litter-strewn, graffiti-covered environments suffers more petty crime than neat and tidy ones - it's called the 'Broken Windows Theory'. Behavioural scientists backed this recently with experiments on Dutch streets that showed how people will misbehave and care less about the environment when other people do the same. One experiment compared the amount of litter cyclists dropped in an alley that was spotlessly clean with the litter they discarded when there was graffiti on the walls. The results showed that twice as many cyclists left litter when the environment was already a mess.

Another experiment involved a supermarket car park and shopping trolleys. Researchers found that in the car park where the trolleys were left neatly, fewer customers were tempted to litter the floor with the flyers that had been placed on their windscreens. But in the car park where the trolleys were all over the place, shoppers were more likely to add to the chaos by discarding the flyer on the floor. Incidentally, researchers made sure nobody moved the 'abandoned' trolleys by smearing the handles with petroleum jelly - a practice staff at my local supermarket employs just for a laugh.

So if you are in sales or manage people it's important to be aware of your behaviour and attitude to detail. Remember, retail is detail. So keep your nose clean, your shoes buffed and your crockery in good working order. Because when times are tough, it's the ones with the tidy car parks that will survive.n

Philip Hesketh is a professional speaker on the psychology of persuasion and the author of Life's a Game so Fix the Odds.