A couple of recent incidents have reinforced the importance of politeness in every day life and the tremendous impact it can have on customer relations and organizational image.
For example, I was recently flying home on a Continental jet from Burlington, Vt., and had purchased a bottle of water at the gate. Not thinking about it, I threw the bottle in my bag and boarded. After take-off, I opened the bottle and took a swig. The flight attendant went absolutely ballistic. She shouted at me to "surrender the bottle" immediately. I handed it over to her and said I had bought it right at the gate. She gave me a real surly sneer and said, "I don’t care where you bought it. It’s not allowed on board."
Juxtapose that experience with one from yesterday when my wife and I went in search for a new puppy to replace the late, lamented Pepper. Deciding to visit the local ASPCA, we were greeted by a volunteer named Bob, who could not have been more friendly, more engaging or more educated about the right and wrong ways to adopt a pet. Bob had us fill out a "matchability" sheet that probed for our feelings and needs in 18 distinct areas. He said they’d run our results through their computer and then come back to us with a list of possible canine candidates. He assured us it was a much smarter and saner way to go.
I cannot tell you how different my feelings are towards Continental Airlines and the ASPCA. And, it’s all because of one customer service representative encounter.
According to an AP-Ipsos poll released last October, 70 percent of Americans think their fellow Americans are ruder and less polite then they were 30 years ago. I have no doubt this is true and see it demonstrated in multiple ways every day (from the sarcastic train conductor and obnoxiously loud fellow passenger to clients who fire you by e-mail and prospects who string you along meeting after meeting).
What’s the solution? Well, a start would be a fascinating update of the original "Miss Manners" book. Called a "Guide for the turn-of-the-millennium," the new Miss Manners book provides "explicit, practical and entertaining advice on social, business and personal etiquette." Having gone through it, I can recommend it and, in fact, may send a copy to the CEO of Continental Airlines, suggesting he share it with a certain Burlington-Newark flight attendant.
Thanks to Laura Mills for her thoughts on this topic.