I recently had a pleasant life lesson into the power of self-leadership with the way a customer service staff at my local bank turned a stress-laden situation into an unexpectedly positive service experience for me.

A little background – I have not had the best experiences with this particular bank.  As a customer, I have at many times been exasperated and occasionally appreciative of the service provided.

In my most recent interaction with the bank, I needed to get new debit cards issued.  I had to do 4 visits in 2 weeks to get this done.  The first visit was about the routine ‘submit a requisition for new cards’ (calling the customer service number does not work for these type of transactions) – Done.  I was asked to come back in 3 days for the new cards.

When I went back (my second visit), the counter service personnel (Ms. Self-led) greeted me warmly, informed me the cards were not ready, there was a backlog in issuing new cards; expect them to be ready in another 3 days.  She would call me when it was time for me to pick them up.

One week and no call.  So I went back to the bank (third visit now) to inquire about my cards.  Ms. Self-led served me again and I could see that she was perplexed and was considering how to tell me the issued cards were faulty.  It was at the end of her day (just 15 minutes to go until she could leave), and I had had a long day as well.  The new cards were non-functional due to an error in the chip technology.  Inevitably she had to ask me to place a new request and come back again for the new cards.  What did she do differently so that I did not huff and puff and form another negative impression in my mind?

“People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John C Maxwell

She led herself first.  She was at the end of her day, and I had two transactions to be completed that would take a lot of time – which means she needed to stay beyond her work hours to complete them.  She had bad news for me, but before blurting it out, she first connected with me as another person eager to get home.  She smiled awkwardly at first, as she tried to connect with me. She was honest about the mess with the technology, and gave me options for how I would like to handle the inconvenience.  She knew that this was not the best thing to happen at the end of the day for either of us, but she extended herself to empathize and problem solve with me in the situation.

She saw from my ID that I am not Costa Rican, asked me about India (my home country), asked if I missed home.  She shared her own struggle in a country not her own for 15 years.  We talked about food from our countries and culture shock stories. Strangely enough this effort from her did not seem corny or fake, or pretentious. In fact it seemed like she was de-stressing by talking about her home country of Nicaragua, which made me connect with her even more.  She created acommon ground – diffusing tension and influencing calm.

“It’s amazing how many cares disappear when you decide not to be something, but to be someone.” – Coco Chanel

I also found her helpful to her other colleagues to help them troubleshoot their end-of-day issues. Not at one point did I sense her tired or stressed, though I could expect her to be so.  She was making sure that she led herself well, without reservations.

In leading herself effectively, she influenced my emotions and state of mind to calmness and cooperation.  In leading herself, she supported her colleagues through their close of day. In leading herself, she made sure she gave her best to the organization she worked for, and created a positive impact in the mind of one customer who had seen the worst of the bank services before.  In leading herself, she put one grain of change into a system that does not always work well.  In leading herself, she became a person of influence to those around her.

 “Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” – John C Maxwell


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Elizabeth George

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