Updated: Nov 18, 2019
A big welcome to my love and VERY productive friend, Grace Marshall, my guest blogger for this week.
This post is an excerpt from her new book: How to be Really Productive: achieving clarity and getting results in a world where work never ends, which I will be reviewing very soon.
I have a local taxi company who are very reliable. Their prices are consistent, their drivers are always on time and they don’t dawdle to rack up the meter. By all accounts they offer excellent service. Until something goes wrong. I’d once ordered a taxi to pick me up from the train station at 11:30pm. The train had already been delayed when I called, so I explained that I hoped to be at the station for that time. As it happened, I was delayed by a further 10 minutes. By the time I arrived at the station, there was no taxi in sight. I called the company.
“Well you booked it for 11:30, when you didn’t show the driver left.”
“Ok, but my train was delayed…”
“You could have called us…”
“True, but the signal on the train isn’t great – plus I already told you it was already running late.”
“We had no way of knowing if you were coming, the driver can’t afford to wait around for no shows.”
“You knew I was on a train… there’s not much of a chance I’m not going to show is there?”
“Well I can send him back.”
“How long will that be?”
“Never mind, I can see there’s a taxi at the rank. I’ll take that instead.”
“So you’re saying you don’t want a taxi now.”
“Fine”. Hangs up.
Well that was a pretty poor outcome for both of us. The driver and the company lost out on a fare. As the customer I felt let down. Nobody wins.
What’s interesting about this conversation is that nothing the taxi company did was wrong as such. But the way in which they did it left them out of pocket and the customer feeling let down. They were enforcing boundaries which were pretty fair, but hadn’t been communicated. And when questioned, their response was defensive, which of course got my back up too. With hindsight (which is a wonderful thing) here’s what they could have done differently:
Set clear expectations about delays. “Our drivers will wait for 5 minutes max. If you’re delayed longer than that you need to let us know.”
Acknowledge the dilemma “I’m sorry about that. Our drivers can only wait for 5 minutes as we often get no shows. What I can do is send someone back. They’ll be there in 10 minutes. Would you like me to do that?”
Offer a better solution for the future: “Listen next time, give us a call when you’re 10 minutes away. That way we’ll be able to get a taxi to you by the time you arrive and there’s less chance of your train being delayed at that point.”
Setting the boundary upfront would have also prompted me to offer to pay for waiting time, which I’d have been happy to do (I don’t want the driver to be out of pocket, but I’d rather not be a lone female hanging around a train station at that time of night) They could have said yes or no to that, but at least I would know exactly what to expect.
On another occasion with the same company, a taxi turned up at my house to take me to the airport but didn’t knock on the door. When the time had passed, I called the company. “Well they waited outside but you didn’t come out.” I wasn’t told I had to look out (maybe I missed taxi etiquette school?) Apparently they saw that the curtains were closed and took that as a sign that no one was home. Of course, the curtains were closed because I was about to go to the airport.
Since then it turns out they actually have a ringback service – two rings on your number when the taxi arrives. But I only found that out when I specifically asked: “do I need to look out for them or will they knock?” I’ve resigned myself to the fact that with this company I have to take the lead in any conversation if I want to know where I stand. Which is a shame, as if they had taken the lead in setting expectations, they would have much more delighted customers and less missed fares.
How often do you feel aggrieved when your boundaries are crossed? How clearly have you communicated them? How much have you assumed that they will know? How much do you lead your customer and set their expectations, or do you leave it up to them to second guess and mind-read?
We often think that serving means to let someone else take the lead, and to respond or react as appropriate. Whether that’s customer service, serving our community, our boss or our family members. We ask them what they want and we endeavour to give it to them. When what they want crosses a line of possibility or appropriateness – in our minds – we find ourselves in conflict.
But that places a huge amount of responsibility on the person we’re serving. To know what’s possible. To know what’s appropriate. If you walked into a restaurant of a certain calibre, you’d expect the waiter to guide you to a table, give you a menu, tell you if anything’s not available that day, maybe give you some recommendations or specials of the day, and ask you what you’d like to drink. Yes if you asked for a different table, or an alternative side dish, they would also respond to that. But if they simply said “what do you want?” when you arrived, that would be pretty hard work for you as the customer, let alone the waiter and the chef!
Sometimes we serve best when we take the lead. When we define what we have to offer and how we work best. When we do the hard work of working out the best way of meeting our customers’ needs. When we set clear expectations up front, and guide the customer through the experience.
I serve my children when I offer them a balanced meal – rather than asking them what they want (chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate)
I serve my clients when I let them know my working hours and availability
I serve my colleagues when I tell them I can give my best answer on Friday rather than a rushed and hurried one now.
I serve my church when I tell them that I don’t have the capacity to give that project the attention it deserves
I serve my husband when I ask for help with the laundry rather than huff and puff with resentment that I have to do everything myself
How can you serve your people better, by taking a lead, defining boundaries and setting clear expectations?
Grace Marshall is head coach and chief encourager at Grace-Marshall.com, author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time and a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive, one of the world’s leading productivity training companies.
She believes in changing the world, one conversation at a time – whether that’s behind a mic, at the kitchen table, in workshops, with clients, over a cuppa or on the page. If it helps people find ways of doing their best work, living their best life, and defining success according to what matters most, she’s up for it.
This post is an excerpt from her new book: How to be Really Productive: achieving clarity and getting results in a world where work never ends.
Grace Marshall is head coach and chief encourager at Grace-Marshall.com, author of 21 Ways to Manage the Stuff That Sucks Up Your Time and a Productivity Ninja with Think Productive, one of the world’s leading productivity training companies. She believes in changing the world, one conversation at a time – whether that’s behind a mic, at the kitchen table, in workshops, with clients, over a cuppa or on the page. If it helps people find ways of doing their best work, living their best life, and defining success according to what matters most, she’s up for it.
Photo: Taxi!! by Stuart Boreham