Years ago I had a not-so-minor disagreement with another co-worker on my team. In the days before computers, we traded memos carbon copying our boss. My boss called me in and told me to halt this “war by memo”. So, I arranged a face-to-face meeting with my coworker and we settled our differences.
Today arguing by e-mail is even easier than composing and mailing off a hard copy memo. At West Point Military Academy, they talk about the “harder right versus the easier wrong”. Arguing via e-mail when you can talk to the person face-to-face is the “easier wrong”.
What’s this got to do with customer service?When you have a disagreement with someone you should “listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to argue”. This is true whether the person you disagree with is a friend, customer, client, spouse, or co-worker. Don’t hide behind your computer! Get out from behind it and go talk to the other person, even if it’s only over the telephone. Discipline yourself to listen to their side of the story.
When I was a jewelry store manager, the district manager of a class ring company brought by the new sales rep who would be working with us. We mentioned several problems we had encountered with their ordering process. Rather than listen with the intent to understand, the district manager, perhaps trying to impress his new employee, argued with us. When my co-workers and I realized we were wasting our time, we dropped the subject. He left, no doubt thinking he’d won because we gave him the last word. He may have gotten the last word, but sales of his company’s rings dropped like a rock. We preferred to sell the rings of his competitors who had easier ordering procedures and created less work for us.
When I was a manager in a different organization, I managed staff located in distant offices. I created opportunities to call them at least once every two weeks. I made sure that the overwhelming number of calls from me were not because they had done something wrong or were calls that created more work for them. These calls created opportunities for them to give me feedback and/or to vent. Most importantly, they gave us the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with each other.
Today, when I receive an e-mail from someone whom I may disagree with, or who disagrees with me, I almost always pick up the phone and call them if they are in a different office, or go see them if they’re at the same location. I’ve found I usually clear up the disagreement faster this way. Plus, I’m much less stressed out.
If you are an owner or operator of a business, seek out feedback from your front-line staff AND your customers. Use a variety of feedback mechanisms to gain honest and timely feedback. If you receive an e-mail disagreeing with you, do not reply. Pick up the phone, or go visit the person.
Bottom line, literally and figuratively, listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to argue.
“Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf.”
–American Indian Proverb
(Portions of this post originally came from my first blog, “Searching For Great Customer Service and CRM”. May 26, 2005.)