Tall poppy syndrome – The curse of the insecure

I was prompted to blog by a comment made during a podcast episode I listened to recently. On the Tim Ferris show, Phil Keoghan – The Magic of Bucket Lists and Amazing Races was interviewed. Phil is the host of the Amazing Race and originates from New Zealand.

Amongst topics discussed, Phil mentions the phrase Tall Poppy Syndrome in relation to the mindset of a lot of people from New Zealand. The term relates to maintaining conformity and not standing out from the crowd, such as in a field of poppies with one taller than the others. To keep things equal, the taller poppy will be cut down to size.

Phil uses the example of the NZ All Blacks, the champion national Rugby Union team. The All Blacks are arguably the highest achieving team ever in world Rugby Union, however, in line with the NZ mentality, they will understate their greatness.

This reminded me of Greg Norman’s win at the 1993 British Open with a final round of 64. Following the round, Norman quipped that “I’m in awe of myself” as he didn’t miss hit a shot. I recall that this comment was discussed in Australia almost more than his win. It was considered discourteous to the other players and arrogant. I could argue though that he was actually understating his normal ability and he just had a great day.

In Australia, anyone who has achieved celebrity through their success is in constant danger of being cut down at the slightest perceived indiscretion. Any comment is taken out of context, their personal life is massively scrutinised, they are lambasted for not contributing their great wealth to charity….the list goes on.

Paul Hogan was considered a national treasure until he achieved worldwide fame with Crocodile Dundee. Initially, he was the still the regular Aussie bloke that made good. But then, his relationship to his co-star was made public. He was then a cheater that let a bit of fame make him forget family values. He wasn’t quite disowned but his public image was massively diminished.

Why can’t we celebrate the success of others instead of trying to bring them down to our level? Instead of looking for fault, why aren’t we looking to learn from them instead? Is their public life really any of our business? Being a tall poppy in Australia is a terrible burden. Be a nobody and fail miserably and constantly and no one cares.

However, it seems that in the US, being a tall poppy is something to be proud of. Sure, the failures of the high-flyers make the press, such as Tiger Wood’s infidelity and Donald Trump’s misguided comments. But it seems that this is more of identifying that everyone can make mistakes rather than wanting them to fail (though maybe with Trump I could be wrong). I doubt I would be wrong in saying that the US would love it if Tiger was the best again.

Maybe Australia could learn some lessons from the pride that American’s have in themselves and country. Pride is considered a character fault in Australia. Why should it be though? Australia is a great place to live, with an envious quality of living but we are happy to hide in the shadows.

To steal a quote from the movie Troy when a messenger boy comments to Achilles, ‘The Thesselonian you’re fighting…he’s the biggest man I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t want to fight him’. Achilles responds ‘That’s why no-one will remember your name’. Come on Australia, strive for greatness and be a tall poppy! If you are too insecure to admire the success of others, keep your undermining comments to yourself and live in obscurity. No one will remember you anyway.

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High-volume customer service – The 15 second relationship

The majority of my career has involved some level of customer service. Some has been intensive, long-term case management, where you have the opportunity to develop working relationships with customer over a period of time.

Currently, my customer service exposure is high-volume. A normal shift will involve interactions with 100’s of people. The trick in high-volume is to provide value to the customer, while still being efficient. My view is that each interaction with a customer is a relationship and you have 5-15 seconds to maximise the experience.

Following are some tips that work well for me in terms of customer involvement and the business objective:

Smile – It amazes me how many people in customer service fail to smile. They work efficiently without expression. The service is provided but fails to engage the customer. In high-volume customer service, you only have one chance to make an impression. A smile is so simple and if you really enjoy customer service like I do, it is genuine and comes easy.

Greet the customer – Again, such a simple thing. Just say ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning sir’, ‘Hi’, or even ‘Gidday’. Accompany a greeting with a smile and the customer will usually respond in kind.

Provide value – Even if you are dealing with a large volume of customers, you can still provide additional value. For example, I am often asked for directions for a particular train. I could respond quickly and just say ‘Platform 9’. I have done my job but it takes me possibly 5 seconds more to quickly turn to check the monitors and say ‘Platform 9, Springfield Train in 5 minutes’. Little things make a big difference.

Become knowledgable – In line with the previous point, having knowledge of your business is very important. In my case, what trains are on what line, what stations are on what line, where is the lost property office, where are the toilets, where the taxi rank is; etc. All simple things but important so you can move traffic through quickly while still being informative.

Develop short scripts – I don’t sit down and write out scripts for each situation but I take notice of what responses are effective with customers with respect to being clear, concise and achieve a positive customer response. A quick example would be directions to a platform. Instead of saying ‘Platform 9 up the end’ (which admittedly, I have said), I say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left’. The customer walks away confidently instead of looking back at me with blank eyes.

Close the transaction quickly – For a lot of regular commuters, efficiency is key. I still apply the engagement techniques but I retain efficiency. Some customers are oblivious to how busy it is and are inclined to stop in chat. This is fine during quiet periods but not when there are 20 people in a queue. My goal is to engage the customer and move them on in a courteous way. Scripting plays a part here. Using the previous example, I will say ‘Platform 9, 3rd stairs on your left. Thank you, have a good day’. This sums up the interaction in a pleasant way and allows me to divert my attention to the next customer without being rude.

No jokes – Unless I am comfortable with a customer, I don’t consider that jokes, more like clever quips actually, play a part in high-volume customer service. A lot of my colleagues rely on amusing comments. I find these unnecessary and don’t add value to the customer experience. I’m not particularly funny anyway, so I don’t want to force something and be disingenuous.

Don’t do it unless you love it – In terms of work, customer service is my passion. I do it because I genuinely enjoy it. The more customers I can serve and get positive feedback, the better my day is. Sadly, I see many, many colleagues performing the job without passion. They are either transitioning between jobs or stuck in the role so long they no longer enjoy it. My view is, if you no longer enjoy a job, move on. You are doing yourself, the customer and the business a favour.

Look professional and smell nice – This applies to any customer service role. How you present yourself is a reflection of the business. I consider it also a demonstration of your respect for your customer. Make sure your clothes are clean and pressed. Be clean shaven or at least have facial hair neat. Shoes should be clean. Brush teeth/ Wear deodorant! I recall a podcast from How I Built This.  1-800-GOT-JUNK?: Brian Scudmore In this episode, Brian stated that a priority was for his staff to be neatly presented. This is a role where they will be carting away rubbish and will get dirty. Brian still recognised the importance of how the customer perceives someone who looks presentable, versus someone that turns up in dirty overalls and smells like a goat.

These are my thoughts on what works for me with high-volume customer service. In some ways, I’m not the most confident person and understate my ability. Customer service is not something that can be easily measured as but when you’re good at something, you know.