You Get Paid to be Nice

December 1, 2015

My recent trip to Virginia got me reflecting on customer service.  It’s been a long time since I’ve flown across the country.  I usually take shorter trips and in the past couple years I’ve started driving more as it tends to be quite a bit cheaper if it’s not too far of a trip.

When I do fly, I almost exclusively fly Southwest.  Their airline has a reputation for having great customer service, fun personalities, and flight attendants with a great sense of humor.  My experience a couple weeks ago really made me miss that level of service.  It wasn’t the flight delays, the bad weather or mechanical issues that soured my attitude, but rather the lack of good customer service that I received.  After I got home, I counted up the number of airline employees that I interacted with through my flights.  When conversing with over 30 employees, do you know how many bothered to greet me with a smile?  Two.  That’s about 6%.

I know all the employees had a tough day on Wednesday when I flew to Virginia.  I realize that the delays and long lines weigh heavily on them as well.  And that’s why I always greet everyone I talk to, smile, ask them how their day is going and thank them for their help before I leave.  But even with my kindness and gratitude, still only 6% could manage a smile in return.

It reminded me of a training I attended a few years ago.  (Ironically, run by a colleague that had worked in the airline industry for over a decade.)  She was presenting things to remember, even on hard days or when dealing with difficult people and one of them has stuck with me over the years.

“You get paid to be nice.”

When you work in customer service a big part of your job is how you interact with your customer-Are you friendly?  Are you helpful?  Are you doing everything you can to get them what they need?  If the answer is no, then you’re not doing your job well, because at the end of the day, you do get paid to be nice.

As a frequent solo traveler with a background in anthropology, I’m a big people watcher.  I’ll admit, I did see one customer behave completely inappropriately and yell at a service agent when she was trying to help him.  I understand how frustrating that is.  I’ve been in the same unfortunate position before.  But that doesn’t mean that you can or should be short with every other customer you help because one person was rude.

My recent trip was a reminder how much the airline industry has changed in recent years.  It has made me appreciate my annual road trips even more and strengthen my loyalty to airlines like Southwest.  I will be flying the same airline again later this year when I head to Palm Springs, California for Christmas.  It will be a shorter flight, so I’m hoping there will also be fewer issues.

I’m also hoping people will remember to smile.

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