When I was about ten years old, my mom and I ran into a problem at the ski area where were skiing. I don’t remember the exact problem, but I think they gave us a room with one king bed and we wanted a room with a queen for my parents and a bed for me. Something like that.
We had a valid reservation for exactly the room we wanted and needed. This problem was 100% the fault of the ski area and was the result of what might be called incompetence or possibly greed (overbooking). We had to go to the office and ask for help.
The man in front of us was screaming at the customer service rep about the exact same problem. The person behind the desk just kept explaining that she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do. They simply couldn’t accommodate him. I told my mother it wasn’t looking good for us. She said, “We’ll see.”
She walked up to the desk and, in her kindest voice (and my mother was genuinely very kind) said, “I’m sorry, but I have a problem. I’m wondering if you can help me.” The surly customer service rep who resisted the screams of the previous guest visibly relaxed and asked what the problem was. My mom explained and within a couple minutes we walked out with exactly what the screamer had demanded. My mother was smiling and so was the employee.
As we left, my mother gave me a lesson that has resulted not only in me getting my way more times than I can count in the intervening years, but also in improving the day for countless customer service people.
Most people naturally want to help you. Helping people is what makes their job gratifying. It makes them feel good. It’s what they want to do. The trick is to make it easy and pleasant for them. You can always yell later, but if you start with a yell, you can never take it back.
When I find myself losing patience with a person who is the face of some immovable bureaucracy, my mother’s words come back to me and I remind myself that you can always yell later.