One of the things that I appreciate about the job the I have is that I get to meet and work with a lot of people inside and outside the company. It’s important to understand that each interaction has the chance to leave a positive or negative impression on someone, and you don’t know how that will play in the future. It’s why brands and companies, both big and small, really need to make sure all employees understand that soft skills matter. In today’s world, everyone is customer facing.
Take for instance the waitress that served me at the San Francisco California Pizza Kitchen. CPK is one of my favorite restaurants to go to. I absolutely love their Barbecue Chopped Chicken Salad with Avocado. If there was a location closer to my house, I’d probably be there a lot. So I took the opportunity to go when I was in San Francisco since I was staying downtown.
When I sat down to order lunch, the waitress told me that I could get a free small plate if I signed up for one of their programs. After looking at it, I decided that I didn’t want to because I wasn’t going to order a small plate, so I respectfully declined. The waitress wouldn’t take no for an answer. First she told me to think about it some more, and left to place my order. When she came back I said that I might sign up for it later because I would be more inclined to have a small plate during dinner. That answer wasn’t good enough for her. She told me that if I signed up for it now, I could come back later and still get my free small plate. I told her again that I’d think about it. The third time she came back to check on me she said that if she got 5 people to sign up for the program, she would get a free lunch.
This story ends with me signing up for the program and the waitress thanking me profusely for doing so. What she, and California Pizza Kitchen, didn’t realize is that that is the last time that I will ever visit their San Francisco location again. Customers don’t like feeling pressured to buy things or sign up for things even if they’re free.
The same kind of thing happens in the corporate world too. There’s a big difference between a friendly reminder and just being a complete annoyance. In the business world, the individual might not care about being an annoyance especially if in the end they get what they want. And today’s world sort of glorifies that kind of behavior by classifying it as “persistence”, and we praise people for not taking no for an answer.
From a CEO of a startup or a high ranking executive at a large company to the fresh graduate and new hire, it’s become commonplace to get what we want and need now and worry about the consequences of our actions later. In the meantime, though, by doing that we burn bridges. The world has an interesting way of making things come full circle.
Don’t underestimate the power of a positive impression. A few months ago as I was trying travel back home from San Francisco, Delta had to cancel a lot of flights because of a storm that hit their hub in Atlanta. The airport in San Francisco turned into chaos. Everyone was frustrated. I ended up having to spend the night in the airport to wait for the first flight out the next morning.
In the morning, the airport was packed with people who had cancelled flights from the night before, and as people approached the gate desk angry, one Delta employee was there calmly answering questions as best she could and helping people as she could. When it was my turn in line, I calmly asked her if I was going to be able to get on the flight as I was not assigned a seat.
I think that my demeanor, not being angry or mad, or at least not showing it, definitely helped. But to her credit she was able to get me on the flight and on my way home. She was definitely having a bad day, but she handled everything professionally and because of that I am still choosing to fly Delta whenever I have to travel.
The lesson of this whole thing is that it doesn’t matter who you are in the pecking order of a company or brand. Your interaction with someone matters and it can either be positive or negative. A positive impression left on someone could lead to recommendations of your brand or company to others, while a negative impression left could lead to people avoiding your brand or company altogether.
And before you disregard this because you happen to be a B2B brand or a startup whose clients aren’t individuals, remember that you have no idea who people know. You could have just interacted with someone whose friend or family member has the decision making ability at a potential client you’d like to win over. Regardless, it is important that brands and companies place an emphasis on soft skill training and evaluation for everyone.