When the Customer Says "Please"

March 6, 2013

More years ago than I care to admit I spent a summer in Europe during college as part of an international media studies program. Six weeks. Two courses. Four countries.  Priceless life and educational experience.


The first city we visited was London. The night we arrived there were an enterprising few of us that wanted to get out and experience the rush of a European capital, the ebullient culture and, of course, English beer. Off we marched in search of a pub and about 100 meters away found three. We opened the doors to the White Swan to find it completely empty.  It was a Sunday night about 9pm. The usual crowd had not yet arrived.


We walked to the bar and gazed about at all the offerings. A very nice woman approached and asked, “May I help you?” probably thinking we needed directions. Wanting to break the ice and be polite (or just being thirsty) I chimed in: “May I have a Guinness Stout, please.”


The woman looked at me and very slowly said, “Excuse me?” I cheerfully responded, sensing nothing amiss “May I have a Guinness Stout, please?”


Instantly, the woman ran down to the other end of the bar where a large burly man was counting money at the cash register. She spoke to him and pointed back at our group.


Oh boy I thought, I have been in the country four hours and managed to irritate someone  already -- and this large rugby player is going to throw us out of his pub. 


The woman dragged the man down to where we were standing and looked at me, pointing to the big guy and orders: “Tell him what you just said to me!”


So, I’m starting to panic just a little. Mustering up courage and might I haltingly repeated as ordered: “May I have a Guinness Stout?” 


The woman jumps in “NO, after that… AFTER THAT what did you say??!!”


Now I am feeling light headed and weak in the knees. Here I go ...


“Uh, please?”


She looked at the man and exclaimed “SEE, I told you!  He said PLEASE!” Then she looked at us and said, “People come in here all the time and order us around and never say please. Never. What would you like? First round is on me”.


Well, I thought, welcome to England. After that our entire group spent every night at that pub following the conclusion of our official duties. Every night for eight nights. And we were welcomed like family.


This has stuck with me for a long time and I have even shared this story with my children (substituting Diet Coke for beer, of course). One simple word, please, can work magic in everything we do. 


Next time you are out and about in a restaurant, hotel, meeting or sales call try to see how people react when you say please. And observe how many people don’t say please.  When you talk to your customers, vendors, clients or fellow team members they deserve to hear you say please. And you deserve to hear it back. 

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