How customer service taught me to “be a lady.”

When I was little, sometimes I’d hear “that’s not ladylike,” or “be a lady.” I usually got a negative impression of that. I didn’t watch TV as a child, so I thought all “ladies” were like the women at church – rather timid, rather limited, and rarely doing anything interesting. I surely didn’t want to be that! It wasn’t till later that I discovered women really could do interesting things, as I learned about Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride and Joan of Arc, and eagerly read stories about Athena and Artemis. Still, these women weren’t portrayed as “ladylike” and so I still thought being a lady was for the birds.

In a way, I still do – but I’m changing.

Enter the wonderful world of customer service. I went from a completely clueless tech support rep who could barely clear cache and cookies and was awash in a sea of things I couldn’t control, to a competent CSR, and eventually a knowledge expert who was training other people. During that time I learned a lot about being a lady.

I learned that it was just as okay to let the door be held for me as it was to hold the door for others. I learned to accept help with nearly as much grace as I gave it. This kind of work drilled me to always, always, always say please and thank you. I learned how to be calm and polite, even friendly, no matter how loudly the other was yelling, and how much power that gave me. A true lady’s grace under pressure lets her overcome as many challenges as a true gentleman’s strength.

A wiser, older coworker of mine once said, “a lady can do absolutely anything she wants to. But that doesn’t mean she has to.”

Once rather uncomfortable with the courtesy that is traditionally given women, I learned that it was important to accept that courtesy – how else can we give men practice at being gentlemen? Being a lady doesn’t mean you are not allowed to do certain things, but it is a role that ultimately makes the world a gentler place to live in. I could get out of my airplane (I did eventually learn to fly) and walk to a door, smile nicely at the man who held it and thank him, then confidently go in to the hangar and ask the mechanics for a quart of oil and a red rag. There’s nothing unladylike about that!

I realized recently that my main problem with “being a lady” was connotations related to the word itself. Ladyship could be a position of grace and strength, much like being a gentlemen. Whether you are a lady or gentleman, it means you are strong, mentally and hopefully physically, can stay cool under pressure, are resourceful, keep yourself neat and clean, and know how to talk to people graciously. It means you have respect for other people and yourself. It has no bearing on what you do for a living. Being a gentleman or a lady is a state of mind.

We live in an amazing time. Women and men have more freedom than ever. At the same time, we can pass along old fashioned customs of politeness, not because they are a duty, but because they are a joy.

Courtesy is Power

Courtesy is one of the best ways we have of affecting the world around us!

With courtesy, politeness, and good cheer, we can have a measurable ripple effect that has lasting consequences. A cheerful smile, a kind word, a sincere compliment, unexpected forgiveness for some small slight, all have an impact that is incredibly powerful. The best part of it is that it spreads. Being angry or sad is contagious too so if we consciously choose a positive attitude (even if we don’t feel it) we can gain better lives for ourselves and benefit everyone around us.

I know I am repeating myself a bit here but I can’t understate the importance of this idea. Consider going through a checkout line. Everybody is tired and hungry. It’s rush hour, and people just want to go home. Think about the difference, and the ripple effect, of behaving in an impatient way versus behaving in a calm, polite way. If everybody is grumpy, everybody stays grumpy. It leads to a worse day with more stress for everyone.

Now, what if ONE, just ONE person in line smiles, says a kind word to the checker, thanks the bagger for their hard work, and makes way for the lady with the walker? Everyone’s day is brightened, just a tiny bit, with no added effort. Maybe the checker with the sore feet smiles at the next customer. Maybe the bagger takes a little more care with the next customer’s eggs. It pays forward and helps everyone.

At work, I do a lot of customer service. 9 times out of 10 I am able to calm an angry customer simply by letting them know that I care about their problem and I want to do anything I can to fix it. Then, even if I can’t fix it, they are often satisfied with me because they understand I did my best. I have seen so many times when an angry person calls up tearing my head off. I listen, I demonstrate understanding and caring, that human connection is made, and we end the call amicably. Then, at home, they have a good memory of someone helping them, they have less stress, and they might be nicer to the next representative they talk to. If I had been rude, that would have been an endless chain. The same is true of my fellow employees. A little friendliness spreads.

It’s a really amazing thing once you start noticing this. People are more positive toward you, you have more people behaving nicely toward you, you get more opportunities, and most importantly, you have an impact on how people treat you. You are no longer at the mercy of the world, you are changing it for the better, just a little bit. Sure there are other ways to make a change but this is a great start.