Who likes to admit that they don’t know something? Most people like to think that they are experts at something. We go to school, then to college and often spend years studying or practicing a body of knowledge so that we can become recognized as an “expert in our field.” After all, being an expert at something, or at least recognized as the most knowledgeable, is the stuff that great careers and fortunes are made of.
Even on a smaller scale, knowing everything you need to know about your job, regardless of how grand or humble, keeps you employed (hopefully), merits a good review (if you get one) and may end up in a pay increase (what’s that in today’s work environment?). No one wants to be caught in a meeting, in front of peers or superiors or staff, stumped by a question and have to utter those three demeaning words—“I don’t know.”
Not true, says Geoffrey James in an Inc.com article, “3 Words That Create Instant Credibility.” Heresy, you say! How can admitting you don’t know something make you credible? Especially in the world of customer service? After all, that’s why people call the hotline or log in for Instant Chat. They think they’re dialing up the experts that know everything!
The credibility comes, James says, in making the confession that, in fact, you don’t know everything. And isn’t that truer than trying to make people think you do? In fact, admitting that you don’t know everything makes the rest of what you say, according to James, more credible.
In customer service, those three powerful little words can make you more believable and easy to work with. When a customer calls a customer service line for a company that makes hundreds of products, has hundreds of hotels or appliances, they expect help but are a little wary of the service rep that pretends to know every little detail of the particular two-year-old lawn mower or dust buster that you’re calling about. If you’re too quick with the, “I know all about that,” you’re less believable than if you admit that you’re not quite sure but have the tools and resources to research and find a solution. There are too many canned scripts that customers see through like a tissue-paper gift wrap.
Honestly admitting your limitations is disarming and builds credibility, but you can’t just say, “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. You’ve got to follow that with, “…but I’ll be happy to find out.” While no one likes a self-satisfied know-it-all, it’s just as frustrating working with someone who doesn’t know the answer and leaves it at that. Sure, the customer can go back and read the manual, or can look up the color and size information on the website, but people who call customer service aren’t looking for self-help. They expect someone with more knowledge than they have to offer some real assistance.
No one knows everything, and we all know that. Authentic customer service is a whole lot of expertise, knowledge, training tempered by authenticity. When you honestly don’t know, be confident enough to say so, and get on with the business of finding out. Honesty, after all, turns out to be the best policy in life and customer service.
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