As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

What is so hard about being pleasant to customers?


At my local Brueggers Bagel shop, the early morning counter staff is anchored by two men who look remarkably similar. Brown hair, rosy cheeks, early 30’s, just a little shorter than average. Going on appearance alone, they are easy to confuse. On personality, they could not be further apart.

Dan, the manager of the restaurant, is unfailingly cheerful, polite, and helpful.  The other guy, whom I call “Fake Dan” (I don’t know his name), is competent and efficient but his bagel-side manner leaves much room for improvement.

Here is a typical Fake Dan exchange with a customer who speaks too softly:

Fake Dan, “May I help you?”

Customer, (speaking quietly, either because they are shy or not a native English speaker), “Sesame bagel with cream cheese please.”

Fake Dan (with a mocking sneer on his face), “Mrmrmfmrmrrfffrrrmmmrr?”

His cruel ridicule of the hapless customer invariably results in an even less confident second request. Similarly, Fake Dan has a habit of wishing all customers “Have a nice day” at the end of a transaction, and then pointedly waiting to be wished “You too!” by the exiting customer. Woe to anyone who fails to respond “appropriately”…that customer is the immediate recipient of a series of exasperated sighs, hands-on-hips work stoppage, and dirty looks.

I try to imagine the twisted psychology behind someone who works in a public-facing job yet would deliberately choose to make himself miserable all day long. It is so much easier to be the pleasant Dan. His employees and customers love him. He inspires positive responses.

On the other hand, Fake Dan has no fans, that I can tell. If other customers are like me, they have silently learned to return his “pleasantries,” all the while seething inside knowing that his “have a nice day” is anything but sincere.

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