Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Honey & Vinegar

I have a favourite saying. It’s “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar”. I use it all the time at work, because the general public seems not to have heard of this tried and true maxim.

I include in the category of “vinegar”: shouting, whining, moaning, sob stories, crying of all kinds, threats, blustering, name-calling, swearing and blackmail.

Under “honey”, I include: manners, courtesy, asking politely, logic, compromise, common sense and calm rationality.

The first way will get you absolutely nowhere with any customer service person worth their salt and force them immediately into a position of hating you; thus decreasing dramatically your chances of getting any kind of satisfaction. The other will open doors, work miracles and probably result in a happy resolution.

Those people who use vinegar to try to get what they want are just bullies. But what most of them don’t realize is that I have the power in this conversation. Not you. Me.

Ultimately I can bend over backwards to help you, or make your interaction with our company a living hell. The true art lies in making you believe I’m doing the former whilst actually doing the other. A range of harmless punishments might include:

- putting you on hold
- making you recite all your personal details before even letting you even state the reason for your call
- listen to the epic story of your problem before advising it’s not my area, and transferring you to someone else to repeat it all again
- advising that I will have to get someone to call you back about that particular problem as it needs further investigation
- launching into highly technical explanations which you won’t understand

I can think of a lot more evil ones too, but I am not that mean. But if I stretch my imagination a bit, a really, really awful customer service person might:

- be assured that the problem will be fixed, but have nothing done
- leave a message, then not have it passed on
- accidentally have their email deleted
- accidentally have their fax lost

And then there’s the really scary thought – that this person, whom you have abused, screamed at, swore at, called names and generally treated like crap, has ALL your personal details. Vinegar people need to think about that. Note that I have never seen customer information misused, and would NEVER do such a thing myself, but I ALWAYS keep this in mind when dealing with companies. Because I know: I am their customer. They have the power.

Are you nice to people to get what you want? Or do you find being a vinegar person works better?


  1. I'm generally a nice person, but sometimes it doesn't work for me. And after the third time I've called 'nicely', then I can get a little abrupt.

    My pet hate? When I use an automated telephone service, follow all the prompts, and then the person I get put through to says 'Oh, I can't help you, you've called the wrong number'. Agh! I have NOT phoned the wrong number, your stupid service has put me through wrong. It makes my blood boil.

    Rant over

  2. I honestly don't understand why people find that they need to be rude to get what they want. I am also a firm believer that honey gets you much further than vinegar ever does.

  3. I like a nice combination of a bit of both. I'm usually really nice to start out with and explain my problem calmly, but if I'm not getting what I showed up to get, I explain a bit more curtly that I am in fact not getting it. Then, when I do finally get what I came for, I'm super appreciative and thankful. Sometimes it works, sometimes I get scared of offending and leave without it...

  4. Sometimes, as much as I would love to be a vinegar person, I can't do it. I think half of it for me is being brought up to speak respectfully to people, and in part because I've been in the exact same position as you, so its the old maxim of "do unto others".



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