Category Archives: Customer service

But That’s Not What I Meant

Words can persuade.  Words can hurt.  Words can calm.  Words matter.

Whether it’s convincing, providing services/care, managing a project or anything else in operating an agency or organization – words matter.  Here are 3 ways to use words to your advantage.

Know your client’s/donor’s language

Words do not always mean the same thing to everyone.  Take the word superficial as an example.  To someone in the medical profession a superficial wound means something not very serious, a surface injury.  Outside of the medical community, if we describe a person as superficial we think they are shallow.  If we think a situation is superficial we consider it insignificant.  So to an ER doctor a wound that is superficial is good; to a client whose need is called superficial by your program manager, it is an insult.  If you do not understand the lingo of your clients/donors you run the risk of insulting them or being misunderstood.  It does take research and listening to know the language of others, but the effort can set you apart from funding competitors and help you accomplish your mission.

Use language your partners understand

If you believe the premise in the previous paragraph then you probably think that your partners should make the effort to know your language and you would be right.  However, if they don’t you will suffer.  Here is an illustration:  You are on the road and almost get hit by another car.  You think, if we wreck it will be the other person’s fault.  You may be right, but you will still be in a wreck.  If you are the lead on a project/program and your partners do not understand your need, time-frame or whatever you could suffer if you do not adjust.  A good truth to remember is that just because someone should does not mean they will.

Speak softly and carry a big stick

Or as my Grandmother used to say, sugar catches more flies than vinegar.  If you start out using kind words you are likely to get cooperation.  If you do not get cooperation then you can resort to stiffer language.  If you start out with vinegary words you may get cooperation or at least action.  But if you do not get what you need, you are at a disadvantage.  Do you use tougher language or do you try to drop back and use nice language?  The typical tactic is to get tougher.  Then even if you get what you want, you usually don’t feel like a winner.  And what happens next time, because if you started out with vinegary words there will likely not be a next time.

In closing let me give you an extreme example to help you remember that words matter.  In South Carolina, my home state, and in some other Southern states the word “Shag” is a dance done to beach music.  In England the word “shag” is a slang expression for sex.  I’ll let you think of ways this word could cause embarrassment, confusion, insult or amusement.  But you get the point — if you don’t understand the other person’s language the outcome will not likely be what you want it to be.

Secret Tactic for Getting A Response

If I had a dollar for every time I could not move forward because I could not get a response from someone, I could go on a luxury trip.

If I had a dollar for every time one of my clients was on hold because they could not get an answer from someone, I could retire now.

How about you?  Have you ever been held up because a co-worker, client, partner or friend would not respond?

It seems that it would be easier to get a response from someone, anyone, with all the means of communication we have today.  When most people have their cell phone (smart or otherwise) with them all the time, it should be easy to call, text or email a response.  And since we are all becoming more comfortable with shorthand communication (lol, BFF and other abbreviations and emoticons) it only takes seconds to respond.  So, why is it so hard to get an answer, an RSVP or at least an acknowledgment?

My theory is that usually there is not enough stimulus to make someone take action.  Here are some examples:

  • There is no consequence or the consequence is not clear.
  • Other things are taking the person’s attention and your question is not “loud” enough (i.e. squeaky wheel gets the grease).
  • The person is rude or lazy and needs a prod.
  • The person has a short attention span and forgets your request as soon as they see or hear it.
  • The message did not make it to their mailbox or voice mail.
  • Some people just can’t make decisions.

So, is there anything you can do to get that response you need?  Yes!

Here is a tactic I have used effectively many times.  When you make the request, state that if you do not hear from them by a specific date or time, that you will assume _____________  (fill in the blank with whatever is appropriate) and you will proceed with ______________.  If it is the first time you have asked a person for some kind of information or decision, you may want to ask them once without a deadline; then after a reasonable length of time (that doesn’t put you in a bind) send a second request with the deadline.  No, this is not rude.  As a matter of fact it is kind.  By providing the deadline, you will let the person know how important their response is and help them prioritize it among all the other things in their mind.  You may also relieve them of having to make a decision if you make it for them with your assumption.  Another thing to consider is all the other people that are affected if you cannot move forward;  is it fair to make them wait because one person cannot or does not respond?

Here are some examples of this assumption tactic:

  • If I do not hear from you by Friday at 4:00 pm, I will assume you cannot participate and move on to our next choice.
  • If I do not hear from you by next Wednesday, August 12, 2012,  (always provide date to avoid confusion) I will assume you are not interested in this project.
  • If I do not hear from you by close of business today I will assume you will be at the meeting tomorrow and will let the committee know.
  • If we do not receive a response from you by April 2, 2012, we will assume you will not be partnering on this project.

There are a few risks of using this tactic.  You must way the risks and consequences of using it versus the ones of not getting a response:

  • You may irritate the person you are trying to get a response from.
  • You may get the reputation of being impatient or pushy.
  • If you are female you may get called some unflattering names.
  • Your deadline message may not make it to the intended recipient.  You may want to follow up the message with an alternate method (i.e. If you send an email, follow it up with a text or phone call/voice mail).
  • You could even lose a partner, client, friend, committee member, etc.  But if someone reacts this strongly to a deadline the relationship/partnership was probably doomed anyway.
  • Be prepared to be the recipient of a deadline when you are asked for a response.  Because some people will retaliate and some people will adopt the tactic.

If you decide to try this tactic, let me know how it works for you.

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