Some of the best communicators I have met have taught me that you are truly big when you communicate small. That is, you get up from your plush designation, push aside the corporate façade, slide down the hierarchy balustrade and “stoop” to talk and connect with a simple, solitary individual.
There was this owner of a group of companies, a true monarch of the market. He would look everyone in the eye, greet by name and enquire about the immediate family.
Last I ran into him, some four years after our last meeting, cruel circumstances had reduced the monarch to a pauper. But, he still greeted me by name, asked about my wife by name, named both my sons and correctly guessed their grade. He remains a communication king in my heart.
Of course, not everyone is blessed with that kind of memory. However, if you think it is important to communicate small, you will find a way.
The CEO of one of the country’s largest companies used his secretary and his laptop to communicate small, big time. I helped him with a few templates. Just by adding a name and changing a few words, he would convert those into very personal letters to suit every occasion—from congratulations to condolences. Before he started a telephone conversation or his secretary ushered in a visitor, his database would bring up the gist of their last exchange—personal and professional.
Goes to show you can’t blame technology for the all-pervading disconnect. Use it right and it can help you connect—if it matters to you.
True healing touch
She was not just a doctor, but a demigod. I was sceptical. She treated the same diseases and prescribed the same drugs like everyone else. Yet, people loved her and stayed put in her waiting room for hours. Why? How?
I was with one of her patients, when I realized the magic was not in her stethoscope. She was 30 minutes late and my friend was in serious pain. Just then, he received a call. It was the doctor. She apologized, explained the delay and told him when she would reach. That call acted like a placebo. My friend settled down comfortably for a long wait.
That doctor’s reputation and her healing touch was not as much in her prescription as in the thoughtful, small communications like that one-minute call.
Back the pat
Talking of calls, I can never forget the Monday when I got a call from a very senior executive of a client organization. My regular contact was about five levels down the hierarchy, so this was a surprise. He took barely a minute to tell me that the presentation I had helped his team make was very impressive and did its job well. That call made my week.
The irony? My contact never bothered with mundane things like feedback. Unless, of course, I had made a Himalayan blunder. Or what was needed yesterday, till a minute ago, was now required the previous week.
Months later, when I told the big boss how his call had had such a positive impact on me, he had no clue what I was talking about. But he shared a secret, “Someone told me a long time ago that you should never miss an opportunity to pat someone on the back for a genuine reason. And you must do it without delay. I just try to follow that always.”
Back the pat to work wonders.
Grace under complaint
I wish my bank would grow up to be big one day. I had emailed a complaint about a wrong charge. When there was no response even a week after the promised 48 hours, I followed their protocol and took up the issue with “higher authorities.”
Four days later, someone from my branch called. “Did you check your account before you escalated the problem?” he sounded very irritated with me. “The issue was resolved two days before you complained higher up.” But, no one told me the problem had been resolved. Else I would not have bothered to escalate the issue. And am I supposed to monitor my account every minute? “When you escalate any issue, the branch must answer. I have to answer.” Did he want me to apologize? “You should understand customer complaint emails are handled by a different department,” he explained.
All he had to do was tell me the issue was resolved. Instead, he made it amply clear that me the small customer was being a nuisance to him, the busy boss of big bank packed with so many departments.
Talk beyond script
My internet service provider (ISP), on the other hand, is beginning to grow up. I am used to tiring cut-paste email responses when I post a complaint. This time it was no different and I had almost given up.
Surprise! A live human being, who knew my name and my problem called up to admit they had not figured out a solution yet. Two days later, he called again to say that the company had sorted out the issue and went on to share his personal number, in case I faced any problem.
Admitting a problem, taking the initiative to make a call and conducting a conversation with a small, solitary customer, without a script. Yes, my ISP has suddenly grown big in my eyes.
Image source: www.dogkneeinjury.com
Some books inspire you, so do some people. Some people walk with you and give you just the push to find and use your own wings.
They are often inconspicuous and unaware of how they influence you. Yet, you realise their worth and contribution when you pause to take stock at some juncture. Or, like it happened this morning, an obituary catches your eye and pulls you back in time.
A gruff introduction
Chandrakant Khandelwal. I met him at a time when I had just stepped into the unknown domain of business, leaving the comfort of a job. Life was fun. I was earning money doing what I enjoyed. That I could not escape some mundane stuff like keeping books and filing returns had not yet sunk in.
It was my accountant who introduced me to Khandelwalji. He was a chartered accountant and his firm was to handle my tax matters.
Maybe I expected a warm welcome and exclamations of how happy he was to get my business. Instead, the hello was intimidating to say the least. “This is what we charge and we don’t help you cook books,” was the gist of his introductory proclamation.
I was tempted to find another CA, one who smiled, at the least. For some reason, I decided to stick on. “He has got a great reputation; his firm is very respected,” my accountant reassured me.
The senior Khandelwal and I barely interacted because his son handled most of my work. Very often he would walk by when his son was helping me make sense of the numbers. “Good morning” was frequent; a smile, rare.
I got to know from the son about his father’s work ethics. Don’t try to dodge hard work. If you can’t do it ethically, walk away, no matter what the price. Whenever I faced a problem, the son would resolve it but I would draw reassurance from the fact the father was backing that resolution.
After some years, his firm went on to become my client. The senior Khandelwal would participate in briefing sessions but barely spoke. He would keenly watch the interaction among others. His occasional comment made it amply clear that he was with us and thinking ahead. In fact, he even smiled at me once or twice.
The firm grew in leaps and bounds. He could have sat back and enjoyed the success. Instead he preferred to come to work every day. Until he was too frail and ill.
This morning the obituary told me he was gone, never to return.
At the condolence meeting, a speaker pointed out that Khandelwalji was always available to solve problems, whether it pertained to regulations, to relationships or to religion. From the little I knew of him within the confines of his office, I was sure that was no eulogical exaggeration.
As mobiles sullied the chanting of the prayer and the members of the sizeable gathering surged to pay their respects to the family, I imagined his small figure walking past my chair. His booming voice would have requested everyone to be patient and not to rush. If that failed he would have sat down on a chair, hand to chin, pensively waiting for the world without him to settle down.
Accounts and returns are no longer a terror and I manage the little I need to do without help. Did that searing introduction fire me up to handle my own battles with numbers? Did the unacknowledged desire to be in the good books of a tough task master inspire me to balance my books? I would like to believe so.
Thank you, Khandelwalji!