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.
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