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The value of silence


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Sometimes it’s better to just say nothing.

A couple weeks back I interviewed a guy named Bill Adams for an article and, when I asked about how he handles customer complaints, he said, “I don’t answer statements.”

Bill owns a custom cabinetry shop in Evergreen called Living Wood, a company he started 12 years ago when he got tired of building sailboats.

During our meeting, I had given Bill an example: If you deliver a custom chair to a client, what do you do when the guy says he doesn’t like the color?

“Nothing,” said Bill. “I don’t answer statements. I just nod and wait.”

He went on to tell me that usually the guy will keep looking at the chair and point out something else he notices, then he’ll say what he likes, and eventually he’ll say, "The color isn’t bad," and finally get to, "The color is better now that I see it from this side."

“The whole time I say nothing.”

Now this seems simple and hardly worth mentioning – at first. But it’s really the bacon double genius-burger of customer-handling advice.

Let them vent. Listen – but don’t try to fix anything.

Maybe they just had a fight with their dry cleaner or got a traffic ticket on the way over to meet with you. Or maybe this is just their style.  Let them talk first, and see where it goes. If you interrupt with the argument, “This is the stain color you chose,” you’ll break the reverie and disrupt their stages of acceptance.

So I asked Bill: “What then? What if they finish their exam and come back to the color?”

 “I ask the guy what he’d like me to do about it.”

“And usually,” Bill went on,” it’s nothing.”

I’m 20 years in business myself, and I learned something from Mr. Adams that I wish I knew on day one.

The funny part came right after this when he said “It works with wives, too.”

And he’s right. It works with everyone. Let them finish. Say nothing.  Listen, and nod. If an argument follows, it’ll be your fault because you tried either A) to fix it prematurely or B) you defended yourself unnecessarily.

If it helps, just sing to yourself the Allison Krause song, When You Say Nothing At All.

To yourself, please!

And thanks, Bill, for the fantastic bit of wisdom.

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David Sneed

David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss; The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at  David@EveryoneHasABoss.com

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