The other day I received a letter from the electricity company regarding our energy supply and possible changes. I wanted to ask a question, and so I called the telephone number on the letter of the woman who was named as ‘handling the case’. When she picked up the phone, I introduced myself and started to explain why I was calling, only for the woman to interrupt and ask me to wait “literally 30 seconds, because I’m standing at the printer”. I waited, and when she had obviously collected her printout, walked from the printer to her workstation and sat down, she asked me to provide her with a reference number.
I will say that the service was very good. My questions were answered professionally and clearly, and the woman’s tone was polite, friendly and helpful at all times (this is a rare occurence, but that is a topic for another blog entry!). What I didn’t like was her revelation that she answered the phone while on the move.
Someone once provided me with an image of a business as a swan on a lake. Above the water line, everybody sees a graceful white bird moving effortlessly, gliding through the water. What nobody sees, however, under the water, are the black, webbed feet pushing, pulling and paddling about like crazy, working the whole time to move the swan like in a romantic story.
Everybody likes their suppliers to be professional, graceful, competence, in control, omniscient. We don’t need to know they are run by humans, too. When I telephone a contact, I’d like to be told that she will call me back when she is available, not that she has gone to the toilet. If I ask for some details, I’d rather be told that you will refer the question to your manager than to be told you don’t know where the information is.
One of my clients called her agent and asked about a report she had originally asked for two weeks earlier. The agent said that she had not been in the office recently, as she had fallen and hurt her knee, and so she had been lying down for two weeks before going in to have knee surgery, and was only back in the office now. Five minutes later, she revealed that her colleague in the office was handling her cases until she got back on her feet. While I like the idea of being natural when talking with business partners, I also feel one should present a professional, competent, businesslike persona at all times.
So remember the swan, and the image that we want to present to the public. Make sure that you only let people see below the water line if you don’t mind them seeing how fast you are paddling.
On the other hand, the next time you are intimidated by someone’s smooth, polished business image, remember that their feet, too, are below the water.