Heart BEATS: "Being Nice Can Go a Long Way to Getting the Help You Need"

A good attitude will get you good service more times than not.

Very few people have more interactions with customer service folks than I do. Besides being a husband, father, grandfather and son, I’m an entrepreneur who has owned his own business for more than 30 years. I also travel extensively for business and pleasure, so I’m constantly interacting with airline personnel, rental car companies, hotel agents, restaurant staff and everyone else associated with life on the move.

I also have an almost insatiable curiosity and love to engage people in conversation, so I’ve talked to thousands of hotel maids, waiters and waitresses, gate agents, flight attendants, reservationists, supervisors, salespeople, customer-service center reps, and a lot of the people most others ignore, cleaning staff at hotels and inside bathrooms.

From almost 40 years of asking, talking and experience, let me tell you the insider secrets of getting great customer service.

First, here’s what not to do:

  1. Raise your voice, get mad, and think you’re going to bully someone into a solution.
  2. Be rude.
  3. Talk down to the person with whom you’re dealing.
  4. Be unreasonable, greedy or dishonest.
  5. Demand a certain solution
  6. Think your time is more valuable than everyone else’s.

Here’s what to do:

Smile, stay calm, speak in a normal voice.

  1. Treat everyone like a real person with real feelings, not an automaton.
  2. Engage in conversation, just a little or sometimes a lot, before getting to the issue at hand.
  3. Be unfailingly patient and polite and keep saying thank you.
  4. Understand the limits of what the person across the counter or on the other end of the line can do for you.
  5. Say, “Here’s what I was hoping you could do” or “Anything you could do to help me would be much appreciated.”

I travel with some real road warriors, folks for whom the only "no" they expect is “no problem.” I can’t tell you how many times the person in front of me at the airline counter is raving mad and gets nothing (except his bags sent to the wrong location, on purpose, and I’m not kidding). I come up next, bone weary but wearing a smile so wide I could eat a banana sideways — they found a way to pull out a travel miracle to get me where I needed to go and have my bags arrive along with me.

Demand a change — like being able to return a product past the due date, get into a sold out hotel or on an earlier flight — and most of the time you’ll hear, “We’re really sorry but we can’t.” But engage in friendly conversation, explain how the change could help you, ask if there’s anything they can do, the whole interaction marinating in “nice,” and you’ll find fees waived, rules bent, rooms or seats magically appear, and the occasional magic wand waived to create a miracle.

Then when somebody does something great for you, thank them from the bottom of your heart and, most importantly, find out how you can report their great customer service so they get recognition from inside the company or build their own companies. These positive reports can mean promotions, bonuses and new customers. My wife and I had mind-blowing experiences going on Chicago’s Greatest River Walk Tour. In fact, it was the best single tour I’ve ever been on (out of hundreds) so I wrote up a great review on Trip Advisor for the owner, Daniel K. O’Connel, and it’s now featured on his website.

Here’s another example: On the recent book tour my wife Teresa and I were able to enjoy a weekend in Park City, Utah, where we visited the Tanger factory outlet mall — primarily to look for things for our precious, 2½-year-old granddaughter, Reagan. We’d bought some other clothes at Lucky and Osh Kosh, and when we went to the Gymboree store we witnessed the most fantastic employee giving a store full of people incredible customer service. She told folks about the special sale, helped people find and match clothes, ran to the back to look for sold-out sizes, rang people up, restocked, you name it. It was like six people working but in reality there was only one; and that one never stopped smiling. Her name tag said "Tanya" and she was the assistant manager.

When it was our turn to check out we told Tanya that she was just an incredible person to deal with, that all the other customers in the store would certainly agree. We engaged in conversation and found out she had lived her whole life in the area and that she loved dogs. She asked where we were from, where we were staying and if we wanted any restaurant recommendations. Then I asked her if she could ship the clothes back to Idaho as we’d been gone almost four weeks from home and had no room in our suitcases. She not only said "sure," she quoted us a very reasonable price and volunteered to send the other store’s clothes back as well, all for the same price. It was something high-end retailers probably wouldn’t offer.

Completely wowed, I asked her how I could give her feedback from the exceptional service we’d received. Tanya showed me on the sales receipt how to do so and wrote her name on the receipt so I couldn’t forget. The first thing I did when we got back to our hotel room that night was to go online and give her a rave review.

A week later we got home and there was the UPS package from Gymboree, along with a handwritten note from Tanya. Even after the sale, when we weren’t interacting directly with her, she still overdelivered.

You know the saying about “honey vs. vinegar.” My version and the version I practice and have taught me children is, “Nice is underrated.”



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