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
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,
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
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 -
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
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
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
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:
INT. FAST-FOOD RESTAURANT - AFTERNOON
CUSTOMER enters from street.
The CLERK behind the counter yawns as he approaches, and speaks in a
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
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
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
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
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.
GuerrillaPR.net is a resource for people that want to get famous in the media,
without going broke. http://GuerrillaPR.net