By Adam Wright
Executive Director, NTRLS
I am known as a nice guy. I always have been. When I took over as Executive Director of the North Texas Regional Library System (NTRLS), I tried to instill this philosophy into my staff when it came to customer service. Here at NTRLS, we serve librarians in much the same way that librarians serve their patrons so customer service is always on the forefront of my mind. How can we serve our librarians better?
Because of my mindset, it was with great pleasure when I was introduced to the small thin book called The Power of Nice by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval. The subtitle of this book is, “How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness.” You can easily apply the book principles towards how you treat your customers on a daily basis. What I found incredible about this book is that it captured how I felt about being nice daily and applied it to the business world. I never would have connected to the two together.
The book outlines six principles of being nice. I will summarize them here.
Principle #1- Positive Impressions are like seeds
This principle outlines the pay it forward principle. If you do something nice for someone, then most likely that person will do something nice for someone else. Eventually, someone will do something nice for you. The authors write, “You might not be able to trace your good fortune back to a specific encounter, but it is a mathematical certainty that the power of nice lays the groundwork for many opportunities down the road (p.7).”
Principle #2- You never know
You never can tell when being nice will have its rewards. It is better to be nice all the time, even to complete strangers, than not to be nice because who knows what your return will be? Here at NTRLS, we make a conscious effort to be nice to everyone, even vendors. One of my staff members recently bought lunch for a visiting vendor, because she thought it was the right thing to do. The vendor was so touched by the gesture that this vendor helped to provide breakfast at several of our System Assembly meetings where we average an attendance of more than 150 people. Who would have thought one nice gesture would have such a nice return?
Principle #3 - People change
If being nice is part of your life, you need to be nice to everyone, even the maid and the security guard. Change is inevitable and the person who is a maid today might be a wealthy benefactor ten years down the road.
Principle #4 - Nice must be automatic
You have to do nice things automatically without thinking about the return. Being nice all the time can be difficult for all of us. However, if you begin to practice daily, it does begin to become more automatic. In other words, the more you are nice, the easier it becomes.
Principle #5 - Negative impressions are like germs
I am sure you have been in a room where a person was not nice, and the tension escalated because of their actions. The simplest negative gesture can often balloon out of control. I remember once that I was in a rush the day before a scheduled vacation to get everything neatly tied together before I left. I received a phone call from a concerned lay supporter whom made a simple request. Instead of taking the time to be nice and address her concerns, I told her innocently that I was about to go on vacation and could not handle her request until I returned. I made a point to tell her that she could easily do the task herself. I was polite about it, but she took my aloofness as an insult. I found out later that she had spoken badly about the System because of my “un-nice” actions. When my vacation was over, I realized that I needed to apologize and set things right. If I would have been nice from the beginning, it would have saved some of the misunderstandings.
Principle #6 - You will know
If you are not nice to someone and no else ever finds out, you will still know that you were mean. The authors put it quite nicely in the book. “The power of nice is not about running around manically smiling and doing everyone’s bidding, all the while calculating what you’ll get in return. It’s not about being phony or manipulative. It’s about valuing niceness – in yourself and in others – the same way you respect intelligence, beauty or talent. Niceness is a powerful force (p. 12).” You have to be sincere about being nice and do it for the sake of being nice. If you are not, you will know (as will most others)!
It has been a long road for NTRLS when it comes to customer service and we still make mistakes. However, I can truly say that NTRLS as a whole has become nicer and I believe we have benefited from it. My challenge to the readers of my article is to try these principles yourself. Be nice for a day and see how well your customers respond to you. If nothing else, it will make you feel better about yourself.