Nice Guys (And Gals) Finish First

“Someone who’s nice always gains.”
Larry King, talk-show host

All your life, you’ve probably heard people say that “nice guys finish last”. And if you were to watch the political ads on TV these days, you’d probably conclude that almost every candidate in every race seems to think that way.

In reality, I think Larry King is more accurate … that “someone who’s nice always gains.” Indeed, being called “nice” may be the highest compliment anyone could ever give you.

For example, I remember one of my friends talking about her new boyfriend. In describing him, she went into great detail about his physical attractiveness, his career success, and his financial achievements. But there was one trait she saved for last. As she said, “And he’s SO NICE.”

Being called “nice” is also one of the most important things your customers could ever say about you, your company, your product, and your service. So it’s to your advantage, if not your survival, to master the art of being nice. That’s why Winn Claybaugh called his book, “Be Nice (Or Else!)”

Let me share with you what I’ve learned about being “nice” in a world that is hungry for extraordinary customer service.

1. Being nice is good for business.

Even though some customer service providers don’t get it, it should be obvious that customers will spend a lot of money with a company that’s nice.

As Claybaugh put it: “Make no mistake — your customers are attracted to you more by your enthusiasm than by your marble floors; more by your cheerful disposition and love for what you do than by your sleek business cards; more by your company standards for respecting human beings than by your multimillion-dollar advertising campaign. When you make being nice a daily priority, your company or business will reap the rewards.”

One of my clients made that especially clear when she related a recent experience she had in planning the all-employee meeting where I was to be the keynote speaker. As she made arrangements with business after business to rent the meeting space, order the decorations, the training manuals, the break time snacks, and the lunch, she found some businesses and customer service people to be a delight. They were really nice. But her simple, onetime visit to the dairy to order gourmet ice-cream desserts gave her an awful, “how dare you interrupt my day” kind of feeling from the dairy employee.

As my client so bluntly put it to me, “Which company do you think I will stop doing business with the next time we have a meeting?”

So yes, being nice is good for your business. But it’s also good for YOU … personally. As Larry King went on to say, “If the toast you got is burnt, the best way to get proper toast is to be nice to the waitress. The best way to get your coworkers to like you is to smile when you go to work. The smiler has the upper hand.”

2. The smallest people make the biggest difference.

When I’m delivering my program on “The Service Payoff: How Customer Service Champions Outserve And Outlast The Competition,” inevitably someone says, “Hey, I’m just a clerk … administrative assistant … systems analyst … engineer … nurse … or … whatever. I’m not a supervisor, manager, or executive. I don’t have any power or big title in this organization. So what possible difference could I make in our business outcomes? What difference does it make if I’m nice or not?”

A HUGE difference. Ben Novello, the president of Outback Steakhouse, said it very well. As he put it, in all their years in business, they have never received one single letter saying, “I just love Outback Steakhouse because of your executives.” By contrast they’ve received hundreds of thousands of comments, letters, and e-mails from customers saying they loved the treatment they got from their hosts, bartenders, servers, and cooks.

If you went to the web site for Outback, you would know that they teach, preach, live and breathe “niceness” as the way they do business. You would read, “We do things differently at Outback. We even strive to make a difference in the lives of everyone involved. Treat people ‘Just Right,’ and success is sure to follow. It’s a culture of respect and camaraderie that breeds enthusiasm. It starts with entertaining each customer like a guest in our home.”

It’s clear that the smallest people (in terms of title) make the biggest difference.

In fact, Disney might have been the first company to pick up on this critical insight. And if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.

If you were a guest at one of the Disney parks and got lost, who would you ask for directions? Would you find your way to the corporate offices, find a highly paid Disney executive, and ask him or her for directions? No! You’d ask the street sweeper who was picking up spilled popcorn outside Space Mountain.

Imagine if that street sweeper responded coldly, “I don’t know. Why are you asking me? That’s not my job. They don’t pay me enough to know where everything is around here.” Disney would soon become unprofitable.

I can assure you that is NOT how a street sweeper would respond to you at a Disney park. You would NOT receive a sarcastic or indifferent response from any of their employees. And that is precisely why their customers come back and tell others about their experience, despite the high costs of going through a park.

Disney knows that the smallest people make the biggest difference, and that’s why every Disney employee goes through EXTENSIVE and ONGOING training in how to be “nice” to their customers. Indeed, in a TV documentary about Disney and how it conducts its business, the narrator concluded the show by saying, “Heaven help the Disney employee who is not nice.”

3. Keep on asking, “How does this affect the customer?”

If you’re going to be a customer service champion … no matter what your title is … you need to make a major paradigm shift. You need to shift your thinking from “What’s in it for me?” to “How will this affect the customer?”

You are not a neutral force in the world of customer service. Every comment you make, every behavior you exhibit, and every system you implement affects the customer in some way. Are you stopping to think about that BEFORE you speak, act, or respond? Are you asking yourself, “Will this provide a better or poorer experience for my customers?” Hopefully, everything you do makes it a better experience for the customer.

One simple way to do that is to follow the 24-hour rule. If you’re not involved in a face-to-face interaction, vow to respond to every e-mail, message, and request within 24 hours. It’s what you would want, isn’t it? It’s simply the nice, polite thing to do.

So if someone calls or e-mails you requesting information or feedback, get back to them in 24 hours or less. Even if you don’t have the information he/she wants, let them know you’ve received their request and will be getting back to them at a certain time.

If you think you’re too busy to do this, just ask yourself once again, “How will it affect the customer if I don’t get back to him/her in 24 hours or less?” Chances are they’ll wonder if you even got their message … at the very least … or begin to wonder if you even care … at the very worst.

4. Own it.

In other words, being nice is not somebody else’s job. It’s ALWAYS your job. As Claybaugh says, “In our BE NICE culture and community, we have a belief that says if you see it, you own it.”

For example, if you see a gum wrapper on the floor in the reception area, the fact that you saw it means you own it. You pick up the gum wrapper and throw it away. It makes no difference that it’s not your gum wrapper or that it’s not a part of your job description.

Being nice means you own whatever you see. If you notice that morale is low in your department or that your coworkers are not being nice to each other, you own it. It doesn’t matter that you’re not the boss. It doesn’t matter if you’re not the cause of the low morale. What matter is that you own it, and there is something you can do about it.

The same goes for customer service champions. If you see a customer that has a problem that is not being addressed, you don’t wait for somebody else to pick up the ball and fix his problem. You own it. You do what you can do … which is exactly what any NICE person would do.

Your customers have a choice about where to spend their money. Of course, they’re going to make a decision with their heads, but they’re also going to spend money with their gut. They’re going to ask themselves, “How do I feel about spending time in your place of business? Do I like you? Do I trust you? And are you nice?”

Action:  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “extremely rude” and 10 is “extremely nice,” how would most of your internal and external customers score you?