I think I could write an essay on the breakdown of civility in modern society based on these questions, but in this case, I ask them to question the business advantages of simply being nice. It’s interesting that being nice to one’s customers is actually a differentiator these days. Of course, it shouldn’t be, and that fact alone probably keeps many from even trying. In reality, though, very few businesses practice being nice. As a result, doing so can actually be a huge advantage to any business that touches it’s customers directly.
This morning, I stopped by Bed, Bath and Beyond, a store in a segment that’s simply falling apart in these tumultuous times. I was greeted at the door and as I moved around the store, at least four different floor people smiled and said hello, with two of them asking, in an unobtrusive way, if they could help me find what I was looking for. There was one cashier on duty dealing with the single customer in front of me when I was ready to check out. Immediately, another cashier came to her register so that I didn’t have to wait. The cashier asked me if I found everything I was looking for, smiled and wished me a good day. BFD, right? Yeah, it is. I’ll go there before I shop some other store for similar goods the next time.
Contrast that experience with my next stop, the Post Office. OK, this is probably an unfair comparison, but my guess is that the USPS is in a fight for its life as a business these days. Yes, the USPS has competitors as well. The person behind the counter never looked me in the eye, was rude, and never said “thanks,” good day,” or even “rot in hell.” Nada.
I had a similar experience once I got back to my office. I had to resolve an issue on the phone with AT&T concerning my bill. After I finally got through to a customer support rep who made it sound like I was standing between her and her tenth cigarette of the morning, I was told in curt fashion that I was “obviously” reading my bill incorrectly. Ten minutes later, she admitted that they had problems with the last billing cycle and my issues were similar to the problems others were seeing. Why did it take 10 minutes of haggling to get to that point if she already knew? To top it off, she stated, without apology, that she couldn’t help me and I had to go to a store to resolve the issue. My loyalty as a customer after this experience – zero.
How hard is it to be nice? Not very. Sure, dealing with complaints and questions all day is tough but, if the people you’ve given the job to aren’t cut out for it, don’t have them do it. Find people who can at least act nice. Your customers will appreciate that your company is a more pleasant one to do business with. This feeling builds loyalty for almost no cost. Or, you can let your employees be assholes to their customers who will in turn write nasty stuff about you on their blogs so that everyone they know will share the same ill will toward you that they do. Ouch.