Briefing 2 – The Vital Second on the Doorstep

It can be one split second. And that second can make all the difference. Managing that tenant relationship on the doorstep has always been beset with unpredictability. Some people do it very well. Others wonder how the hostility grew out of their smile and a hello.

We’ve always known about the power of those first few seconds – that first impressions count perhaps more than we’d sometimes like.

I often point out how important acknowledgement is to most people. And the paradox we have here is that work works for the majority rarely works for everyone. So the key skill in greeting on the doorstep is to be ready to adapt and do quite the opposite to the norm. Most people like just the right amount of eye contact coupled with their name being spoken, addressed in just the right way. Good morning, Mrs Jones…

Mrs Jones will hate being called Miss Jones, whereas Mrs Brown might laugh at the mistake. Use your intuition which will get better with practice. If someone leads forward when they open the door, it often denotes curiosity and a wish to engage with you from the start. A purely upright or even leaning back stance from a tenant can be more hesitant, even defensive, taking you in. In the first case you should greet and immediately meet that gesture with a warm greeting and often a question can work well. In the second case you need to greet very specifically and state why you are here in once sentence followed then by a request. Good morning Mr Smith. I am here to … May I come in ? (showing, of course, the appropriate I.D.

Nearly everyone likes their name pronounced 100% correctly. They also like a minimum amount of eye contact – no over-staring, and also no eye contact avoidance.

It’s all about establishing rapport. Usually this takes time, but under pressure on the doorstep, an intuitively well timed and measured one-second hello and a smile, can get rapport going very quickly. Human beings are a unique species of one, and we have to trust our instincts, with very awake and aware senses all 100% conscious, to tune in quickly. Good waiters know how to do it, so do stand-up comedians! On stage, that first glance can make the difference between laughter and stony silence for the rest of the gig.

When we connect with other people, it is less about us, and more about our response to the other person. Look, listen, sense and tune in. You are there to serve – that is what customer service is all about, if it is to be authentic. What does the other need from me? How should I greet? How should I stand? You can’t analyse it – there isn’t enough time. In that single second, it can be make or break. Put your attention in the space between and be open to what is needed from the “other”. The vital second on the doorstep isn’t done TO the person answering on the door, it is done OUT OF THEM. They inspire the correct response. We might feel we are PRO-acting. But we aren’t. Good service on on the threshold, on the doorstep, is a reaction to what is needed in the moment. It’s improvisational. And it needs you to be open, in tune, and not trapped in your own ego. That is real service.

Some people, especially nervous people, don’t want you to lean or gesture forwards until they have invited you in, or leaned forwards themselves. Many like to know you know their story, so it can be very wise to restate. “We received your call on Friday, and you made an appointment to have to leak looked at. I’m the service engineer…”

Replaying the story, along with stating a name correctly, along with a minimal and necessary bit of eye contact will usually do the trick.

If you get anger – “I waited in all bloody day for you people yesterday”, it is nearly always a stress-reducer if you acknowledge through repetition – “You had to wait in all day yesterday and we didn’t come. That must have been very frustrating.” Acknowledgement nearly always diffuses anger. Of course people get angry about the content of an issue, but in most cases it is feeling ignored, not responded to, unacknowledged that is the key emotional trigger.

So, repeat their story back to them, accurately, and also acknowledge their emotional state. Confirm by doing this that you have completely “got” where they are at. You will often find that this alone can get you to a place on the doorstep where normal, cordial communication can begin.

All of this can take a few seconds, and that first look, that first gesture, that first hello can take less than a second. It can make all the difference.

In summary:

– read the person – their body language, stance, facial expression, tone of voice and adapt accordingly

– be accurate with their name

– always acknowledge their emotional state

– repeat their story – their needs, state, request back to them to show you have “got” it.

And practice!


About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

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