Lessons from a fire truck

Recently I learned, from a fire truck, about a key truth in communications: namely, how two people can interpret a situation completely differently. I was driving to a meeting in Washington, D.C., at a university there. The meeting was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. at the library, but I was early. As I approached the library, I noticed two fire trucks parked in front of me, on opposite sides of the street, with emergency lights flashing. Only after I passed them did I realize that the one on my left had partially obscured the entrance to the parking lot I was looking for. Expressing annoyance at myself, I turned into the next lot, made a U-turn and returned to the library parking lot.

I parked my car, got out and walked the short distance to the library. It was only about 7:40 a.m., and the library was closed, so I sat outside and started to review my schedule. Just then, my cell phone rang. My business associate, the university librarian, was calling to say he was only a few minutes away. "Thanks," I replied, "But just so you know, you might have some delays because of two fire trucks by the parking lot."

His reply to my statement jolted me. "So, Calvin," he said, "is the library OK?"

In my talks and training sessions on customer service and communications, I frequently discuss how two people can interpret the same situation differently. Here was a perfect example. My focus, in discussing the fire trucks, centered on traffic delays. The librarian's focus, instead, centered on the library building itself.

Had I been more alert and sensitive, I would have added, in my phone call to the librarian, the statement "But the library itself looks OK."

Though this incident was a minor one, it still illustrates my point. Be aware that this same condition exists with your own customers. When they call with a problem, their perspective isn't one (usually) of processors, registries, or IP addresses. Their perspective is one of "can I get my job done?" The more you can see things from our customers' perspective, the more successful you will be in communicating, and the greater are the chances your customers will be satisfied.