How We Evolved Into An Un-Charming Culture...(And What To Do About It)

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Charm did not play a very large role in that arrangement. But times have changed (thank goodness) since the days of those primitive humans, and these days, charm can play a tremendous role in a leader's ascension to power, either in politics or business.

The problem is, we haven't changed all that much since our cave days. We have, in fact, regressed from a point we had reached not all that long ago, to a level where our society is as crude, coarse, and inconsiderate as in those days. In fact, maybe these days are worse. After all, those first people didn't really expect any more than they got.

Charm has become a rare commodity, and that makes it something that is by definition very valuable. But that's not necessarily good news, It means we live in a society that's so decidedly rude, someone who exhibits charm at any level is considered an uncommon and amazing specimen. We have not evolved all that much in terms of our manners or our desire to charm others. We have the ability, but we never seem to use it.

In modern society, walking into a supermarket, a fast-food restaurant, or a video rental store can be an exercise in rudeness. The workers manning the store-including many managers-are, at best, indifferent to customers and their needs, and are too often downright hostile when asked a question or required to do the job for which they are being paid. Everyone has a "bad service" story, and when it is told, listeners in the room all nod their heads in recognition: "Yes, they've heard that one before."

The problem isn't that there are a few places where workers aren't charming anymore. The problem is that this has become the norm, the accepted level of overall service that customers assume will be in use when they enter a retail establishment, unless it is an especially expensive and exclusive one.

In those cases, snootiness takes over for apathy, and customers seen as less than affluent and upscale are treated as if they've walked into the wrong bar.

No matter how you look at it, charm is definitely missing from these scenarios.

And there's no reason for that to be. It's just as easy to perform a task with, at least, courtesy for the client, as it is to perform the same task and be rude at the same time.

A person who walks into Burger King (or, to be fair, any fast-food restaurant) expecting the welcoming, smiling help featured in the chain's advertising campaigns is most likely in for a very rude awakening, "rude" being the key word in that phrase. And we have come to accept-even to expect-that kind of service. That's the scary part.

Charm in the counter help would make things work differently It would cost not a cent more, take not a minute longer, cut into revenues by zero percent, and change the well-regulated system of food preparation a bit.

It can be taught as part of the general training each employee receives, and it would cost the company nothing.

So, why are corporations not teaching charm to their employees on any level, anywhere?

Because it's not a priority.

Customers don't expect it, and executives think it won't increase profits in any way. But there is a growing mountain of evidence to suggest that assumption is not in the least true.

Customer satisfaction surveys are showing that consumers are less and less satisfied with the level of service they receive generally, and they are complaining ever more loudly about companies that have traditionally prided themselves on fast service, such as McDonald's and other fast-food restaurants. Such companies have seen their sales erode, and there's no reason to believe that customer service didn't contribute to those declines.

In fact, if the surveys are to be believed (and I think they are), service is a major contributor to the lower revenues being totaled by many service - oriented businesses. Would a little charm hurt so much? The real question is: How did things deteriorate to this level?

How did a society that at one time boasted courteous service and a degree of charm from its workers in service industries such as food and gasoline erode to the point that customers not only accept a listless, even hostile, approach, but they also assume they will get exactly that?

To chronicle the decline of charm in American society, we first must define what we mean by quot;charm."

Many people confuse charm with politeness or courtesy, and while it is a natural mistake to make, neither of those qualities-each of which is included in charm defines "charm." Charm is the difference between a rote recitation of "God bless you" when someone sneezes, and a genuine interest in the person's health. It is not "Wow, your rack looks great in that dress, Sally," and is "That's a really nice color for you, Monica."

When a person says "thank you" for a gift, that's courtesy.

When he sends a thank-you note, that's charm. Therefore, charm is going the extra mile, while courtesy is the act of not doing something offensive.

Charm is all about the other person, and courtesy is about you. Charm is about respect; courtesy is about following rules.

A working definition of charm, for our purposes, is: charm is the art of making the other person believe you care. Certainly, that's an over-simplification, but it suits our purposes nicely People believe that to be charming, one must have a great wit, physical grace, creative talent, or a really smooth line of talk. While none of those things hurts, they are not essential to charm. The only thing that is essential is that you make the other person believe you care.

The easiest way to do this, of course, is to care. That is efficient, profitable, and has the added benefit of being the right thing to do.

In retail businesses, the other person is the customer, and all she or he really wants you to care about is getting your job done properly This can be done in two ways, and I'll leave it to you to decide which one is more charming:


CUSTOMER enters from street.

The CLERK behind the counter yawns as he approaches, and speaks in a monotone:

CLERK Welcome to (fill in name of fast-food place). Can I help you? CUSTOMER Yes, thank you. May I have a burger with no pickles, please?

[The Clerk barely manages to disguise his amusement.] CLERK If you really want to, but it'll take at least twelve minutes. CUSTOMER Twelve minutes? Isn't that a long time? [Clerk, talking to his girlfriend on the side, doesn't answer.] CLERK You want the burger, or not? CUSTOMER Yeah, okay. No pickles. CLERK Right. Stand to the side. I've got people waiting in line.

Here's the second scenario (and don't tell me it's not possible):

The CUSTOMER enters from the street. As he approaches the counter, he notices the CLERK's friendly smile. The Clerk speaks in an attentive, yet conversational, tone. CLERK Good afternoon, Sir. Welcome to (fill in name of fast-food place)! How may I help you today? CUSTOMER Well, hello. Would it be possible to get a burger with no pickles? CLERK (looking a little disappointed) I'm so sorry, Sir, but our system is set up in such a way that special orders take extra time. It could be twelve minutes before I can get that for you. CUSTOMER Twelve minutes, huh? That is a while. CLERK I know. If you'd like to speak to the manager about it, I'm sure he'll be happy to . . . CUSTOMER Oh no, that's not necessary. It's all right; I'm not in that big a hurry. I'll take the burger, with no pickles, please. [The clerk has never left the counter during the conversation. He punches in the order, and looks up again, smiles.] CLERK Thank you for the order, Sir. Is there anything else I can get you with that? CUSTOMER Yes, a large fries and a soda. CLERK Terrific. I'll tell you what. Since you have to wait for your burger, the soda is on the house. CUSTOMER Why, thank you! CLERK And if you'll just wait at your table, I'll be glad to bring you your order when it's ready.

CUSTOMER Thanks again.

There's no point in even asking which scenario better fits the definition of "charming" that we established above.

By making the customer know that he cares about his performance-which means not just that he does his job well, but that it means a good deal to him that it is done right-the clerk in the second scene proves to the customer that the customer's needs are important.

He, the clerk, cares about the customer, understands his concerns, and works hard to meet them. The clerk is smiling and attentive, listens to the customer at all times, and seems to care about the inconvenience he encounters. When an obstacle to fulfilling the customer's needs-the extra time for the burger-is established, the clerk offers an apology for the system and the inconvenience built into it. He also asks if the customer wants to complain to a superior, and when the customer agrees to endure the inconvenience, makes an offer of a free drink to compensate. The customer here is more likely to walk away with a positive feeling about the fast-food chain than the one in the first scenario.

And what's interesting?

The customer in the second scene didn't have fewer problems than the one in the first. Being charming didn't change the way the burger place cooks its food, so the clerk's attitude couldn't make the special order happen faster. Because the clerk did care, or at least gave the impression of caring, the second customer understood that there was no better way for the clerk to handle the situation, that he couldn't speed up the process, and that it wasn't his fault. Where the clerk in the first scenario should be immediately placed on probation for his attitude, the clerk in the second scene is more likely to be promoted sometime soon, because he can handle potential problems and make the customer appreciate his visit thereto the point that the customer might actually recommend this fast-food outlet to others. That is the power of what charm can do.

How did it work?

It worked because the clerk made sure the customer understood that he cared. That can be extrapolated to any business, and virtually any circumstance. It won't always have exactly the same happy ending as our scenario above, but charm will never make a situation worse, and will very often improve it.

Because our society has deteriorated so far, because charm is such a rarely seen commodity, it is a more noticeable, more desirable, more valuable property than ever before.

It is as useful a tool and as devastating a weapon as anything in the business arsenal, an implement capable of catching your competition off balance and elevating your own performance and results immeasurably And the cost of using it?

Absolutely nothing, unless you count the price of this book.

Consider your own dealings with retail chains, other businesses, civil employees, or virtually everyone in the course of performing the tasks that make up their jobs.

Isn't it much more likely that you'll find sullen, apathetic, irritated, and surly people just "putting in their time" until being released to go home? Doesn't that happen to you much more frequently than finding pleasant, interested, genuinely concerned employees trying their absolute best to fulfill the mission you've assigned them (either directly, as an employer, or indirectly, as a client or customer)? Now. Which ones do you remember more fondly?Which ones do you remember better? For that matter, which ones do you remember?

See my point?

Charm is not only useful and valuable, it is also memorable. And in business, there is almost nothing better than being remembered. In fact, the only thing better than being remembered is being remembered fondly. And that is what charm can do for you. If you had the experience detailed above, in which the fast-food customer was ignored and diminished by the counter help, would you remember it? Perhaps you would. But would you remember it fondly? I tend to doubt it. But, if you had the second experience, in which the drink is on the house and the counter help made sure you got the order you wanted, with the smallest delay possible under the circumstances, would you remember that?

I'll bet you would, and you would also remember it fondly.Would you even consider going back to the first fast-food restaurant? Would you even consider not patronizing the second one on a regular basis?

Charm is a huge advantage in business, and the good news is that now, with a population made complacent by years of bad, completely non-charming service at virtually every turn, the charming businessperson will be that much more noticeable. It is that much easier to become charming, and that much more of an advantage to display it.

Wait, it gets better. With customer satisfaction ratings going down on an annual basis, it's clear that people expect less and less to find a charming employee behind the counter, on the phone, or in the street. It is, therefore, now easier to stand out than it has ever been before.

Keep reading, and you'll see how to become more charming.

It's so easy, it's almost embarrassing. Really.

Michael Levine is the founder of the prominent public relations firm Levine Communications Office, based in Los Angeles. He is the author of Guerrilla PR, 7 Life Lessons from Noah's Ark: How to Survive a Flood in Your Own Life. is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media, without going broke.

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