Be Nice

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A friend works for a company that helps government agencies provide better service to its customers. One division works with call centers, and another addresses walk-in traffic. That’s where my friend works.

Often his company needs to address the basics. Sometimes they must start with a simple instruction that seems common sense: “Be nice to the people you serve.”

Inevitably someone asks, “Why?”

So the second step is to explain the reasons behind the instruction to be nice.

While it’s laughable that anyone needs to teach this seemingly self-evident idea to someone in the service sector, apparently not everyone understands it. These staffers need to first learn this lesson, then master the concept, and finally apply it to the people they serve. 

In a practical sense, “be nice” also stands as an astute guiding principle. After all, if our call center agents are nice to callers, doesn’t that direct the bulk of their actions?

And yet, I can’t imagine day one of agent training opening with a lesson titled “Be Nice.” The ability to be nice should stand as a requirement for hire, a trait we screen for in the interview process.

But if one person slips through who isn’t nice, then short of termination, Be Nice training is in order. Or perhaps an entire shift—or even the whole call center—has degraded into a staff of not nice employees. Instruction on how to be nice is required to overhaul the shift or remake the center.

What would Be Nice training entail?

Again, it seems self-evident, but here are the high points:

Follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” stands as the guiding principle for Be Nice. When we treat others as we wish to be treated, we take a huge first step toward being nice.

Smile: Though no one can see a smile on a telephone call, people can hear it. We should smile often at the people we talk to on the phone. If it helps, have a mirror at your station to remind you. Personally, I find a mirror disconcerting, yet as I use Skype more—which allows me to see myself as others see me—I realize the importance of smiling when I talk.

Be Friendly: Don’t be surly. We’ve all encountered surliness in customer service situations, both in person and over the phone. Surly repels; friendly attracts. By the way, it’s much easier to be friendly when we smile, while surly is more likely when we frown.

Respond Fast: Part of being nice is being responsive. It’s frustrating to have to wait to have our question answered or pay our bill while an employee completes a trivial conversation with a coworker or wraps up a personal phone call. Yet this happens all the time. We notice it when we’re in person, but over the phone we can’t see unresponsiveness. However, agent indifference toward callers results in us enduring more rings or listening longer to on-hold music.

Solve Problems: The main reason for customer service is to resolve customer issues, so the ultimate goal of Be Nice training is to solve problems. This includes actually resolving the issue and callers agreeing that we did. This is where first call resolution (FCR) comes in, which most of the time promotes effective problem resolution. However, call centers that focus on average call time effectively encourage agents to offer pat answers, refer callers to someone else, or transfer the caller. This doesn’t solve problems, and it isn’t nice.

Be nice at work, and be nice at home. Be nice to others, and most of the time they will be nice to you. Be nice in all you do, and then you will make a nice difference.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.  Read more of his articles at