Can you listen to yourself through the ears and mind of someone else?
The title above is a phrase I've constructed as I was sharing my thoughts with the consultant at the bank. I enjoy the effort of articulating a complex idea in a very short sentence. With this one it feels like what came as a summary of thoughts in a conversation should be a starting point for a story that explains an issue.
The Process of Engagement
I’m not sure what the meaning of that might be and I do not bother to ask: On the phone I am always alert to the possibility that a call from someone I am not familiar with might be risky; I have no interest in volunteering personal information. So I keep my thoughts to myself. They relate to the fact that since we started our investment file, it has gone through quite a few hands, always with seemingly good reason, always with “your benefit in mind”. “From now on...” doesn't sound like what we've experienced so far.
I appreciate the bank’s reassuring disclosures about their best intentions. However, their good service is always certainly going to benefit the bank as well, if not more than what it would benefit us. With investment it is always a game of risk versus chances of gains. Whether we lose money or earn it, the bank takes its share.
We schedule a meeting and I let my new contact know that I will inform my wife, who might be able to join. If not, she would schedule another appointment after we set the stage for further action. Half an hour later I get a call from the same person asking to speak with Anat. I remind her of the previous call and we confirm the meeting already scheduled for the following week.
This of course raises my concern with the quality of service I am experiencing. Not only am I already uneasy with the scheduled appointment but now I get an illustration of someone on the other side not exactly in control of information they should have.
And so, a day before the meeting I see my bank’s name on the caller display. My thoughts go “Nice, she is making a reminder call”. But no, she is asking whether I remember we scheduled a meeting for five minutes before she had called. My thoughts race in circles trying to figure what, how and when did our conversation a week earlier lead to this mistake: was it me who put the wrong date in my calendar; was it she who is showing consistent incompetence?
We agree to meet the next day which for me was the time I had in my calendar anyway. When I do get to the bank, our interaction is absolutely productive: the consultant describes her position, apologizes for the misunderstanding and informs me of her interests in that meeting. She takes notes of my responses to her questions and I feel content with the degree of personal service this whole experience entails.
Could the above experience have been smoother?
My concern stays with the stage until our face to face engagement. I am curious how many clients find themselves in similar situations. How many clients does the bank miss because of those tiny streams of discomfort that arise in technology based communications? I’m not so much worried for that bank as I am trying to learn a lesson myself.
We think we are all used to the phone, a well established piece of technology. Even so, there are still endless examples of people messing up issues just because they've tried to settle something on the phone instead of in person. The variety of communication tools at our disposal these days is almost out of control. Between us, we still don’t possess the same degree of mastery over these tools. Beside the technical level of actually operating any of them there is also the social aspect of interaction: it could be that we have different cultural backgrounds; we might have differences in using the same language and we could simply be in different moods at the moment of exchange.
What leads to a meeting builds expectations that do not necessarily relate to the outcome. In the case with my bank the meeting turned out to be much better than what my concerns alarmed me with. In many other cases, things go the other way. The challenge is in the attention we give to what the other side might make of our effort to engage. It’s like we need to find a way to listen to ourselves through the ears and mind of others. Can we do that with everyone we interact? I’m sure we don’t.
So what is our challenge?