So … I teach others how to communicate effectively in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean that I always practice what I teach! Occasionally, I get so spitting mad at a person or a situation that everything I know just evaporates from my mind. And that’s exactly what happened to me last Wednesday night! I was doing some late-night online banking (don’t you just love the Internet!) and I noticed an unexpected fee in one of my accounts. I called my bank’s 24-hour Customer Service centre and explained my situation to the young man who answered the phone. Within a few minutes, things went downhill. Without going into the gory details, the customer “service” rep was condescending, he didn’t listen well, and our conversation ended with him lecturing me about how I should be better educated about the inner workings of my accounts. Granted, he was probably right on the last point, but as I’ve said over and over again – it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it! Anyway, unfortunately, I let his superior attitude get to me, and before I knew it, I lost my cool! By the time I hung up the phone, not only was I no closer to a resolution that when I first placed the call, but I was so furious that steam was coming out of my ears, and I knew that I simply couldn’t let this go!
So the next morning, still spitting mad, I went in to my branch. Now this in itself is a big deal because normally I’ll do just about anything to NOT go into the branch. I mean, it’s so easy to do almost everything remotely nowadays, why would I go into the branch unless I absolutely NEEDED to? But of course, on this day, I was a woman on a mission. I was determined to speak to my branch manager in person – both to dispute the fee and to give the bank a piece of my mind about this so-called customer “service” agent.
After about a 15-minute wait, Ms. Tracy Long invited me into her office. Ms. Long is the manager at my local Royal Bank branch here in Calgary. Now I’ve been banking with the Royal Bank for 30 years, (yes, for those of you doing the math, I opened my first account when I was 15 years old!) and even though I’ve been banking at this branch for almost four years, I’ve never met Ms. Long before. Reassuringly, her response to my complaints was a welcome surprise, and the complete opposite of what I had experienced the night before. Remember, my professional expertise lies in helping others develop effective workplace communication skills so I knew exactly what she was doing, and I have to tell you, it was a joy to watch a master at work. Even though I was well aware of her approach and purpose, it didn’t take away from the fact that it worked! By the time I left her office, I was no longer spitting mad, in fact, I was relatively calm, and all because Ms. Long chose to focus not just on what she said, but also HOW she said it. Here are six specific things she did that made the difference:
- She let me tell my story. In fact, as I sat down, I mentioned that she may want to look at my record as I was sure that the agent last night had made notes on my account. Her response: “I’d like you to tell me what happened from your perspective.”
- She listened. She didn’t interrupt, she didn’t argue, she didn’t get defensive. Enough said.
- She acknowledged my frustration, several times. In other words, she didn’t try to imply that I had nothing to be upset about. Bravo!
- She empathized with my situation, admitting that others who have a similar type of account as I do have faced similar issues.
- At the end of our time together, she summarized our conversation, and waited for me to nod assent.
- And finally, she outlined what action she was willing to take and gave me a deadline by which she would act.
Now here’s the thing, I don’t know if the fee dispute will be resolved to my satisfaction as I’m still waiting to hear back; Ms. Long promised to respond to me after April 19. And who knows, my quarrel over the fee may be the subject of a future blog post :). But no matter what the outcome, you still have to admire and respect how Ms. Long handled the situation, particularly when you compare it to my conversation with one of her colleagues the previous day. She gave a textbook-perfect illustration of how you can de-escalate a difficult situation with a client by communicating with empathy and understanding, and it worked! Don’t you just love it when things happen exactly the way they should?!
What’s been your experience when it comes to dealing with a difficult situation with a client, boss or co-worker?