Carl Mays: Ask good questions and listen to the answers

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 11:42 PM

Have you spent many hours on the phone with a service company in an attempt to resolve a problem? I’m talking about companies like Internet providers, cable systems, telephone groups, insurance companies, etc.

For two weeks, I’ve been trying to resolve an e-mail problem. And since my incoming e-mail is provided by one server and my outgoing mail involves another company, it’s been a double-whammy sort of thing. I have spent hours on the phone during this time, conversing with eight people via phone and two via e-mail. It could be worse.

After all, I am supposedly pretty knowledgeable about how to communicate and how to help others communicate. I have presented numerous communication talks and seminars, penned quite a few columns and articles. I wrote a book titled “Are We Communicating Yet?”

I do understand we have to accept the fact that many service groups are going to start with the position that the problem is on your end rather than their fault. So the sooner we can supply some solid factual and emotional evidence, the better off we are. Also, I understand offices and call centers employ different levels of people. Some entry level personnel are new and have limited training and experience. Some employees with more training and experience are not as knowledgeable about their services as others on the same level.

Then, we when we are able to ask for and talk with a supervisor, we will also find various levels, experience, knowledge and caring. When we can converse with a good superintendent – or with a good, knowledgeable and caring employee on any level for that matter – praise God from whom all blessings flow!

If you have heard me speak on the subject or communication, or read anything I have written about communication, you may recall that many tests reveal we have an average listening factor of about 13 percent in our society. You may also recall the American Management Association reports 90 percent of all problems in any organization is a result of poor communication.

Two things we can do that will help us and the people with whom we are conversing communicate better are (1) concentrate on listening and helping the other person listen; and (2) ask good questions and help the other person ask good questions. I share with you one good example from this week that helped me save time and solve one aspect of the total problem:

After a representative (Kimerla) and I had a pretty good discussion, she asked me to “wait a minute” and she would put me in touch with a supervisor. I asked her to “define a minute.” She sort of laughed and said, “Well, it’ll probably be two or three minutes.” I said, “Define two or three minutes.” She shared an even jollier laugh and replied, “Well, it’ll probably be 20 to 30 minutes before I can get a supervisor on the line.” I asked, “Is that 20 to 30 minutes at the most, or 20 to 30 minutes at the least?” Another good laugh.

“At least 20 to 30 minutes,” she replied. I laughed this time and responded, “You mean I’ll be waiting at least 20 to 30 minutes before there’s a possibility I can talk with a supervisor?” There was a pause, then she said, “I’ll tell you what – I’ll put in a call, and when I get the superintendent on the line, I’ll call you and connect you two. I thanked her for going the extra mile and said I would be awaiting the call.

Two hours later I received a call from Kimerla. She had the superintendent on the line, and I continued to pursue the resolution to my problem.

© 2013 by Carl Mays, speaker and author whose mentoring site,, is based on his book and program, “A Strategy For Winning.” E-mail to, call 436-7478 or visit