A lake-side lesson in credibility. Written by Nate Brown and Jim Quiggins.
“The unspoken.” It’s not only a feature of awkward prayer gatherings, but it can also be the most important element in customer service transactions. An outstanding resolution requires so much more then answering the surface level question. Oftentimes the best hope an analyst has of getting to the root cause is by perceiving the unspoken need. If the customer has carried an emotional burden with them to the call, the analyst’s job is not only to resolve, but to heal. This concept was recently personified by an unlikely source in Long Hunter State Park. I (Nate) love Kayaking. Add a fishing pole to the equation, and I am a very happy man. Such was the case early Saturday morning on the beautiful Couchville
Lake just outside of Nashville. The weather was outstanding – and I was even catching some nice fish. My good fortunate took a surprising turn, however, as I became engulfed in the wake of a Tennessee Wildlife and Resource Agency (TWRA) vessel. There were two agents standing on the boat, and one of them meant serious business. His frantic yelling echoed across the otherwise silent lake. Once my distress receded, I could hear him urgently demanding to see my life jacket. A life jacket? In a kayak? Clearly this person had no idea how I’d been doing this for 12+ years and had never needed a life jacket. A defensive tone took shape as I explained how not only did I not have a flotation device, but I did not need one. As expected, the agent threw the book at me – taking a messianic tone as he articulated the special regulations for Couchville lake and the dangers involved. I was not even close to caring what he said. My goal was to internalize my anger and shut up while I awaited inevitable punishment.
It was at this moment that our interaction took an astonishing turn. Instead of reaching for his ticket book, the agent began unbuckling the straps of his own life jacket. He removed it and held it out as a gift. His expression changed from that of a disciplinarian to a concerned friend. The realization washed over me fast and strong. This man was not out here to punish minor violators, but rather to keep people safe and protect them. The gesture communicated his purpose so clearly…making me see how foolish I was to have been defensive. The agent had won my full loyalty and trust by showing that he cared about me as a person.
This is how great customer service is done. By proving to the customer that you sincerely care about them and have their best interest at heart, you conquer the “unspoken” need.
It is requires a very special person, especially when your customer (like me) is frustrated or resistant. Sincerity and trust are the key words. You can have the smartest analyst in the world, loaded with product knowledge, but if he cannot make the person on the other end of the line feel cared for, it will likely be a poor interaction.
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As I (Jim) heard about Nate’s experience it reminded me that there can be a “life jacket” moment in every call. It is what we might refer to as a “moment of truth” and it occurs in almost every interaction or relationship at some point. How this defining moment is handled can make a huge difference in the ultimate outcome of a potentially defensive situation. A successful transaction often hinges on how each party perceives the other communicator. One of the most extensively researched areas in the field of human relations is the concept of “communicator credibility.” Credibility is the
perceived character and competence of the other party in a relationship – including the call center help desk interaction. The number one factor in shaping perceived credibility is “trust.” At the moment the TWRA official demonstrated his trustworthiness, Nate’s attitude changed from resistance and defensiveness to openness and trust. The second factor that determines how we are perceived in terms of credibility is “competence.” Being trustworthy will only carry us so far and trust is not a substitute for competence. Trust and competence combined create a climate in which service can more likely succeed. Finally, we also tend to be more receptive to someone who is also likeable. It is what the research in this area refers to as “sociability.” These three perceived personal characteristics – Trust, Competence and Sociability – are the key determinants in creating a supportive climate where effective mutual problem solving can thrive. In a future post we will talk more about some practical actions an agent can display to establish credibility and make this magic happen – the kind of magic that will keep Nate safely kayaking for a long time.