Don’t forget that, when you are dealing with someone who is stressed, who is struggling or who is just angry, you have the chance to influence their situation in a positive manner.

I was reminded of this a while back when I was on a trip with my parents and brothers, coming back from visiting my grandparents. We were checking out of the hotel and it was unseasonably (very) cold. With 5 of us piling into one vehicle, we had to pack light and, not expecting this weather, didn’t bring any heavy coats.

My Dad went down to start the car and (literally) melt the ice off of the doors so they would open. Meanwhile, my brother went down to retrieve a luggage cart so that we could bring the bags down as quickly as possible, so that Dad wasn’t outside in the cold any longer than he had to be, in the light coat he had brought.

The hotel staff wouldn’t give him a cart (which isn’t uncommon), so an attendant said he’d be right up. Let’s say he wasn’t as quick as I would have liked. In fact, I heard him stop in the hall and have a conversation with a member of staff.

We Are in a Rush

By the time he arrived, our door had already been open for a while and we had been piling bags up close to it, to speed up the process. When he arrived, I started putting bags on the cart right away. I may have said “hi,” I may not have. I was moving fast. And I wasn’t particularly pleased that he had taken his time coming up after refusing to give my brother a cart.

Now, at this stage, any reasonably thoughtful customer service representative could see us piling bags on and moving in a hurried manner and realize, “hey, they are in a rush.” Now, the question is: how do you react to that? Do you…

  1. See we are in a hurry and help.
  2. Take offense to the fact I may not have properly greeted you and stand with a look on your face expressing that, before asking (in a wonderful tone) “what did I do wrong?”

This attendant opted for the second one and we loaded the cart ourselves while I explained that my Dad was outside and that we wanted to get down there as quickly as possible because all he had on was a light jacket. Do you know what he said next?

“There are plenty of stores in the area.”

Meaning, there are plenty of stores where we could have gone out to, in order to buy a winter coat, so that my dad would be able to wait longer in the cold while the attendant took his time helping us. Believe me that this suggestion was not made helpfully. I don’t know if I’d believe such a smart aleck response if I hadn’t been the one receiving it.

I’d like to say that the interaction went better from there, but it didn’t. He took his time, disappearing with the luggage for a few minutes. Even though I had to essentially make two trips because I had to go back to the room for my Dad’s coffee, I beat him to the car (and then some). When he finally arrived where my Dad was waiting, I was already there, and the first words out of his mouth were: “Your son is very disrespectful.” That played well with my father and really helped to remedy the situation. Heh.

Here’s the thing: if he was any good, as a customer service representative (which is what any front line staff member that greets your guests is), he would have seen we were rushing and jumped in to help. Perhaps, after I told him about my Dad waiting, he’d say “I’ll get these bags down right away.” That simple action shifts the momentum in a positive direction. Instead, he shifted it in a negative one.

It Wasn’t Even a Big Deal

The situation wasn’t really even that stressful. We were just hurrying. It’s not like I went up to him and said, “What took you so long?” I was just loading bags. But when he decided to take our rushing as a personal affront, he not only impeded us, he hurt our experience at the hotel and lost a gratuity.

Similarly, when people come to me in a less than ideal setting – their registration didn’t go through, the activation email never came, they’re confused about why a post was removed – and they aren’t happy about it, I can decide to take that as a knock on me and get all defensive, or I can explain what occurred and help them.

I can’t turn every unhappy member into a happy one, but I can definitely guide some members toward a happier, more comfortable state. You have power. Use it.