The Customer Service Power of “I Don’t Know”


I stood in a long line at a coffee shop. An earnest and peppy employee went through the line taking orders on a tablet to open the bottleneck. When she got to me, she was unsure how to place my order. Instead of faking it, she apologized for not knowing.

I surprised her by being grateful instead of irritated.

It brought me back to my early years of practicing law. I was the only lawyer in my practice group in the office, so a client’s urgent call came to me. He explained the situation and his question. I repeated the issue back to him to make sure I understood it. Then I told him it was really a practical business answer, and I didn’t have the experience to give him that kind of answer. I told him I would ask the head of the practice group as soon as he returned, and we would call him back.

The client was pleased I understood his problem and would call back with the right answer.

The other lawyer, not so much. I was chastised for telling a client “I don’t know.”

I was stunned.

To this day, I value the integrity of people who don’t fake it, who understand the power of “I don’t know” and who hustle to find me the right answer instead of the quick answer.

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