A Dog, a Kayak and a Phone Lesson

A Dog, a Kayak and a Phone Lesson

Sara Moginot is a customer service aficionado and a regular reader of this blog. She recently had a “light bulb moment” while enjoying an outdoor adventure with her dog … something that’s valuable for all of us to consider when our phone rings.

What did Sara realize and how can it improve our conversations on the phone?

Three of the joys in life for me are embarking on new adventures, meeting strangers and learning new things. And often, adventures that have nothing to do with my work, reveal something that improves my ability to communicate with customers. Here’s a recent example:

I have a big red dog, Groot. He’s not quite as tall as Clifford – but definitely goofier. And I own an old tandem kayak for the sole purpose of bringing Groot along for explorations of nearby lakes and rivers. One of these was on a windy day on Lake Charlotte. One the way, Groot sat still in the car, nose high up in the air, gloriously sniffing, as dogs are want to do. While I wasn’t convinced we were destined for smooth sailing, the kayak was strapped on my car and off we went.

During our time on the water, Groot and I grew more confident. I watched for ducks and osprey, warning Groot to stay on one side of the boat, luring him with waterlogged sticks to chew. It felt like we’d found our rhythm. But then … a loon surfaced! Groot’s curiosity peaked and he quickly shifted in the bow. I lurched to the other side and shouted a command, all the while praying for the kayak to stay upright and the loon to dive under.

My stomach bobbed along with the boat. I sat up straight, tightly gripping the paddle, braced for a capsize that didn’t happen. And at that moment I realized that this same reaction to rough waters is often present when the phone rings – and can cause phone conversations to capsize.

As I continued through the water,  I thought about how I responded to Groot and the loon. My initial response was tense. I fought the potential flip with equal pressure against it. I made my job harder by fighting it. Sitting with a slightly forward stance is what helps any paddler keep their kayak upright, embracing the waves and paddling effectively. Though it looks effortless, it takes a lot of work with knees, hips and core all engaged.

There is a similarity with those responsible for customer service in contact centres. They are always navigating diverse conditions. The phone rings and someone on the other end is angry, confused, bitter, excited, curious. Think of an emotion, and we’ve picked up the phone to find it. And when we tense, when we brace for that caller, it’s as effective as my bracing for each lurch in the water. It means we’re paddling toward a tippy conversation.

Think for a moment about what you do when you answer the phone. Do you cringe? Tense up for the angry or confused caller? Or do you sit up straight and face each call like a new adventure? Do you welcome the conversation?

Good kayaking requires the use of core muscles to keep a centre of balance. Think one with the kayak. Now transfer that to your phone conversations. You need to work with each caller and look forward to each call.

As Groot and the loon taught me, don’t brace for the caller … embrace the call! Be prepared to fearlessly paddle into unchartered waters.

While sitting up straight and being ready, willing and welcoming for each call is not easy, it creates the best possible customer and agent experience. Simply listening connects us to the body language in the phone call, allows us to be aware of tone, in the same way a paddler is aware of currents and winds on the open water.

Answer the phone with an open face. Remember that smiles radiate through fibre-op. Get a little joyful when the phone rings. Welcoming a client is more than hello, it is a key part of customer service and phone etiquette, and a rock in the foundation of customer relationship management. Don’t brace – embrace!




4 thoughts on “A Dog, a Kayak and a Phone Lesson”

    • Thanks, Cathy. I thought so too. We all “brace” for a phone call from time to time. I love how Sara reminds us that it’s not a good idea.

  1. A great analogy. I am a dragonboat paddler & steersperson and we use the term “hold the boat” if anything untoward happens. I have been practising smiling when I answer the phone or leave a voice message. It must be working, I am getting call backs and bookings. Yipee!!!
    I love Groot’s expression as he watches for ducks and loons – he is trying to look relaxed, but he is definitely alert.

    • Thanks, Eileen. Great to hear about your continued success on the phone. And I was so glad that we could use Groot’s photo!


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