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How You Can Learn from The Politeness of Qatar

How You Can Learn from the Politeness of Qatar

*Miryokuteki Hinshitsu This is a true story. It happened to me a few days ago while I was flying from Athens to Doha on board a Qatar Airways plane. I was immediately struck by how efficient, polite and friendly the cabin crew were. When I asked them for a (second) cold drink, they rushed to get me one and then they even asked me whether it was cold enough and whether I would like them to keep it in the freezer for a few minutes and bring it back later!!

I was so impressed by the quality of the service that I thought I had to do something about it, so I took out my notepad and scribbled a brief note to Qatar airways, congratulating them on the quality of the customer service and praising in particular two of their staff (Gabriel and Hye – the ones I had interacted with [see pic]). Then I gave the note to the head of the cabin crew. I told her that when things go wrong we tend to complain (and this is good if things are to get better) but that I felt it was also important that you should let people know that you appreciate it when they are doing a good job – especially if their performance really exceeds expectations.

A few minutes later, that lady came to find me. She said she had conveyed my message to these two people and that she would also be passing it on to HR. She thanked me for taking the trouble to put these positive thoughts on paper and she told me how much it meant to them to feel that people do notice that they make an effort to do their work as well as they can. She then said she had something to give me – a little token of appreciation [see the third pic]: a pen with the company logo, some very nice Godiva chocolates and – more importantly – a hand-written note thanking me for ‘being such a nice customer’! (I can tell that people who know me are now thinking ‘Eeeer… are we talking about the same person?!? ☺ )

Later, Gabriel also came to thank me and we chatted for a while. When I told him I worked in ELT, he told me that before becoming a flight attendant he had worked as an EL teacher himself in Brazil for four years! Naturally, I congratulated him on having made the right decision (about his second career step, that is! ☺ ). He was a nice fellow… He promised that if any vacancies came up, he would let me know… ☺

Reflections: This was certainly a pleasant experience which left me with warm feelings towards humanity – and a few extra millimetres around the waist (those chokies were really good!) – but then it occurred to me that perhaps there were a few lessons to be gleaned from it. Here are some of them:

First impressions:

In his excellent book (2013) Matt Watkinson goes on and on about the importance of customer service and how companies often get it wrong. But why is CS so important? Perhaps the main reason is that in the service industry (and ELT clearly belongs there), the first contact with the company involves people. It is vital that we get this right because, as Rory Sutherland says in this video, this has a ‘colouring’ effect: if the first impression is positive we are likely to like everything else afterwards.

Watch here

Adding meaning to work:

We all like to feel that what we are doing is meaningful. This is hugely important for motivation (Ariely 2016 – p. 14). Adam Grant (2013) describes a fascinating study involving volunteers at a University who called alumni to ask for donations. When some of them heard a former student describing how their work had helped her study by paying for her scholarship, their performance increased fivefold (p. 189). It makes good management sense to ensure that people feel their work does make a difference – which is what the head of the cabin crew did here by informing Gabriel and Hye of my positive comments.

Timely feedback:

Feedback is much more effective when it is regular, concrete and timely (Wagner & Harter 2006 – p. 56). Heath & Heath (2011) point out that very often managers save their feedback for the yearly appraisal. This is a mistake. Instead, they offer a very effective management technique which they call ‘One-minute Praisings’ (click here to watch the 50-sec clip). You simply ‘catch’ your employees doing something good and praise them then and there. And if you can use real positive feedback from a satisfied customer (as was the case here) so much the better!

Measuring success:

You are a manager (e.g. a DOS) and you have worked really hard to ensure your team provide the best service possible. How do you know if you are succeeding? Well, according to Nancy Sorrells (Wagner & Harter 2006 – p. 13) there are two heuristics you can use: when people come to you to brag about something they have done (‘I tried this amazing technique today and it worked like a charm!’) or when satisfied customers start giving you positive feedback and they mention names – as in this case.
Response-ability: According to Dooley (2012 – p. 226) you can tell how good a company is by the way the respond when they screw up – a company has to have quick reflexes, own up and make amends. But what about when you do not screw up but instead you do unexpectedly well? Success can catch us unawares and we may miss some golden opportunities. Notice the company’s brilliant response here; it was not what I did, but the little presents along with the note (see the last pic) which made me write this post. Knowing how to deal with success is an art!

‘You are special’:

The little note deserves special mention. Countless studies have shown that we appreciate ‘customised attention’ – and how we are more likely to respond to it (Goldstein, Martin & Cialdini 2007 – p. 44). For instance, Japan Airlines often give first-class passengers a little handwritten ‘Thank You’ note (Watikinson 2013 – p. 160). The moral: regardless of the type of relationship (employee-customer, manager-employee, teacher-student) a unique (not generic) message on a handwritten note (which can be shown to others) can really make a difference.

Multiplying Happiness:

There is one last point worth mentioning here. We tend to think that a nice word, a smile or a compliment only affect the two parties directly involved. Yet research suggests otherwise. In a fantastic study, subjects who had been helped by someone were subsequently more generous to a third party! (DeSteno & Valdesolo 2011 – p. 161) It seems that this is a classic ‘spill-over’ effect; our gratitude brims over and impacts positively on other people, who are likely to do the same thing in turn. I am sure that the same thing happened to Gabriel and Hye that day.

Last words – simply acknowledge:

I have to say this idea of a ‘happiness ripple effect’ greatly appeals to me. This may well be in part because it is so simple to set off. In this case, it was just acknowledging the great work these two people were doing. Yet although we often underestimate such acts, there is something special about them. I will leave the last words to Dan Ariely (2017 – p 27): ‘acknowledgement is a kind of human magic – a small human connection, a gift from one person to another that translates into a much larger, more meaningful outcome’. Brilliant.

* miryokuteki hinshitsu – The idea that things should have an aesthetic quality beyond mere functionality; the extra element that makes you go ‘Wow!’ (normally used for objects, but here extended to service).


Ariely, D. (2016) Payoff. London: TED Books
DeSteno & Valdesolo (2011) Out of Character. New York: Three Rivers Press
Dooley, R. (2012) Brainfluence. Hooken, New Jersey. John Wiley & Sons
Goldstein, N., Martin, S. & Cialdini, R. (2007) Yes! 50 secrets from the science of persuasion. London: Profile Books
Grant, A. (2013) Give and Take. London: Phoenix
Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2011) Switch. London: Random House
Sutherland, R. (2011): [YouTube] Rediscovering a Lost Science. [16:20 – 17:25]
Wagner, R. & Harter, J. (2006) The 12 Elements of Great Managing. New York: Gallup Press
Watkinson, M. (2013) The Ten Principles Behind Great Customer Experiences. London: Financial Times

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