It was a raw, rainy morning when I decided to leave the car at home and take the train into town. Normally, I would have walked to my destination, but given the miserable weather and that I was lugging a couple of bags, walking nearly a mile through the wet streets of Philadelphia didn’t seem like an enjoyable task. So I hailed a cab.
Imagine my surprise as the driver threw up his hands and grunted disgust when I gave him the address. “It’s right down there,” he pointed. “I know it’s just a short ride. I apologize, but it’s pouring and I have a lot to carry.” Then he yelled at me. “You need to be considerate of taxi drivers.”
No longer wanting his ride, I offered to take another cab, but he quickly pulled out muttering words that I didn’t understand. And just in case I dared to question who was in charge, when I paid the fare and asked for change, he refused to give it to me. I wasn’t about to argue.
As a home-grown Philly girl, I’m used to fanatic Eagles fans and sometimes harried East Coast behavior. But for the most part, Philadelphians are warm, friendly people who take great pride in their city. So what if I was visiting from out of town and that cab driver was my first impression of Philadelphia? How might I unfairly stereotype Philadelphians in general? What if I was a big deal meeting planner who was so offended that she decided not to hold a large meeting here? Or a business manager looking for new office space who decides to look elsewhere. Maybe the driver picked up a film scout who changed his mind about shooting a movie here? Think of the repercussions; lost hotel, restaurant and retail revenue to name a few.
A single taxi driver has more clout than he or she may realize. Their facial expressions, tone, attitude and choice of words can quickly shape someone’s impression of an entire city. Anything short of a welcoming friendly attitude is simply bad PR and bad PR is something most cities can hardly afford.
The lesson also spills over to the workplace where hiring managers say people form impressions about others within 30 seconds of meeting them. Some believe that candidates are actually mentally hired or not in the first 10 minutes of an initial meeting. Contributing to those impressions are appearance, manners and the way the job candidate treats assistants and receptionists. After all, the person behind the counter often has a direct line to the boss. If they think you’re rude or condescending, their judgment of how you may or may not fit into the workplace could cost you the job.
For those of us who travel, you can likely recall a nasty airport employee you may have encountered on arrival, a surly cop who wasn’t helpful when you asked for directions or an unpleasant encounter with a shopkeeper. These experiences linger long after the trip is over. If the subject of that trip happens to come up in conversation, you may share a story about that rude taxi driver or nasty person who has become synonymous with the city or town you visited. And the bad PR continues.
Organizations spend good money with firms like ours to teach professionals and spokespeople how to make a great impression when they speak. While that’s clearly important, it’s often public servants and other front-line employees who are the faces of our communities. The impressions they leave behind are hard to put a price on.
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