It’s OK to say “I don’t know”

Thanks to the example set by our media-groomed politicians, it seems that nobody is willing to admit when they don’t know the answer to something. Rather than reveal a gap in their knowledge, they prefer to fudge their way to a non-committal, irrelevant or even incorrect response, by trotting out a favourite policy slogan or party catchphrase. Wouldn’t it be refreshing (and more honest) if they just said “I don’t know”, and then figured out how to find the appropriate answer?

Image by: Alexander Henning Drachmann

Image by: Alexander Henning Drachmann

In previous posts, I have commented on my frustrations at poor customer service, and in particular, the inadequate customer service training given to front-line staff. My latest run-in with poor customer service training came at my local supermarket. Owing to an innocent misunderstanding at the checkout, I asked the checkout assistant to reverse the payment on my credit card payment and debit it instead from the cash balance on my store loyalty card.

“No, that’s not possible”, I was told. “It’s already gone through on your credit card. You’ll have to use the loyalty card next time.”

“Surely,” I replied, “it’s a very simple process to reverse the transaction, and process it again?”

My request was further denied as being “impossible”. Eventually, the checkout assistant admitted that she “didn’t know” how to do it, so she would need to ask her supervisor to do it. “Fine,” I replied, and suggested she could have said this in the first place.

Problem was, the supervisor had no idea either. “I’ll have to re-process your transaction by scanning and reversing each item individually, and then put them through again.” By this time, I was wondering why I chose to shop here, and seriously considering why I would ever do so again.

“There must be an easier way,” I suggested. “I can’t be the first customer to have had this issue.” After further hesitation and prevarication, the supervisor said she would have to ask her manager to show her how to do it, as she herself didn’t know the process.

Turns out, it took one transaction code to reverse the credit card payment, and then reprocess it on the loyalty card – and without having to re-scan my shopping.

I don’t blame the checkout assistant, as clearly she hadn’t been trained how to do it (although she should have admitted as much in the first place). I’m a little surprised that the supervisor didn’t know either (how did she get promoted?). But the real blame must lie with the manager (or his manager) for not making sure the staff working under him knew the process, or knew who could perform the transaction.

To me, leadership (in politics, in business and in the service industry) is about making sure people know how to do their job, that they have the right tools and information to perform their duties, and that they know what is expected of them in the role. In cases where they may not know the answer, then it’s better to admit “I don’t know, but I’ll find the answer”, rather than fumbling the issue.

Next week: Updates on Apple Health, AusPost, eTaskr and Slow School of Business

2 thoughts on “It’s OK to say “I don’t know”

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