There are several short cuts in life that make things easier and more efficient. Patrick Swayze in the old B-movie Road House used to carry his medical records with him. He explained to actress Kelly Lynch, his eventual love interest in the film, that this “saves time.” (That’s even easier now that medical records are digitized.)
Sam Elliott’s character taught me to work and play hard because “I’ll get all the sleep I need when I’m dead.”
Road House was filled with life lessons. You see it’s about a bouncer played by Swayze who sets out to clean up a bar and winds up cleaning up The. Whole. Town.
Swayze’s character Dalton majored in Philosophy at NYU. I’ve been a proponent of the Philosophy of “hang up, call back” for many years. When you don’t get the answer you want the first time, hang up the phone and talk to someone else.
- Sometimes the first agent won’t be very motivated to help you. Sometimes they aren’t trying very hard.
- They may not know the rules. It’s not worth fighting them, or even trying to teach them. The odds they’ll want to learn from you when they didn’t learn from their training are pretty low. At best you’re going to waste time, at worst you’re going to get remarks made in a reservation that won’t be helpful later.
- Or maybe they’re right, and you’ll luck into someone on the next call that will do more to bend the rules for you.
Maybe you don’t know whether what you want is possible or not, whether it’s award availability or better flight options, and all you’re doing is relying on an agent on the other end of the line. Since you don’t know how hard the agent is working, or really anything about that agent, my starting point is not to trust the answer until you’ve heard it three times in a row from three different agents (with Delta sometimes more).
One corollary to this is that you have lots of options of places to go for help. If you’re dealing with an airline on the day of travel you have:
- the check-in counter
- kiosk, website, or app
- telephone reservations
- customer service counter
- gate agent
- Twitter (and in some cases Facebook messenger or other social media or messaging app)
If mom says no, go ask dad.
However even though you have lots of places to go for help, you still want to maximize your chances of getting what you want each time. The person you’re dealing with at that moment could be the one most likely to help you. And you may even be pressed for time, running out of options to get where you’re going, why burn the bridge in front of you and have to move on to the next?
There is merit in the old saying “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” It breaks down a bit when you start thinking too hard because there’s nothing nice that you’re ever trying to do with flies when you catch them. All it means is you’re more likely to get people to do nice things for you if you’re nice to them than if you’re a jerk.
The saying dates back, as I understand it, to Torriano’s Common Place of Italian Proverbs and entered the United States via Poor Richard’s Almanac (Benjamin Franklin) in 1744.
Just like Patrick Swayze taught us, I want you to be nice.
Judging from the comments I sometimes get on this blog, I know that some of you need this advice: whomever you’re dealing with is rarely the same person who caused the problem you’re dealing with. They have lots of people complaining to them all day long. You set yourself apart by treating them as a person, with their own emotions and motivations.
If the person in front of you in the customer service line is getting upset and taking it out on the agent, the agent is all the more ready to expect you to do the same. They’re not going to want to listen to your story or spend time working every angle to find a solution. They’re going to want to move you out of their line as quickly as possible. Basic human nature.
So turn that on its head. Acknowledge the difficult job they have. Acknowledge even that you’re adding to it. If they ask you how you’re doing, as bad as your travel day is, it’s probably not as bad as listening to complaining passengers all day. Make them smile. Make them laugh. They’ll be happy to do more to help you.
Even if you don’t care to treat the agent as a person for its own sake (because they’re a human being and it’s what’s due them) if you want to get better treatment you should start by interacting with the person on the other end as a person. From a purely self-interested perspective it’s better not to be a jerk.
To be clear, whether you’re dealing with an airline or working as a cooler for the Double Deuce, there comes a time to not be nice. But that’s not in the heat of the moment or during travel. That’s escalating things to executive management. To the Department of Transportation. It isn’t taking your frustrations out on a more junior employee.