Personal and professional
A couple of years ago I needed a locksmith. I’d pushed a handle too hard in the office I was using and jammed the door shut, so I stuck around while the locksmith replaced the hardware. While he worked, we chatted. Then at one point he cradled the lock mechanism in his hand, and told me the last time he’d seen one made like that was when he was called in to rescue a claustrophobic woman who had got locked in the toilet at her counsellor’s office: he made me laugh – and showed me at the same time that he is really good at what he does, and human, too.
With that story, I realised that I’d got myself a favourite locksmith.
So how did he get my loyalty?
Not just by getting me out of a bind. It was his story that won me over. He carefully balanced his personality and his professionalism to show that he knew what he was doing, and to show me what I could expect from him. Important values came through: conscientiousness, precision, craftsmanship, awareness, and compassion – far more clearly than if they’d been painted on the side of his van.
So the question for us is: Do we have a strategy of being both personal and professional at work?
Buying isn’t logical
When people buy any product or service, they could meet their actual need from any number of your competitors. In many cases people aren’t even after the thing they’re buying, but rather the feelings they expect to get by having it.
That means that if they are trying to feel attractive, they might come to you for a makeover, or they might decide to join a gym instead, or even treat themselves to a posh new coat.
That personal, irrational, emotive part of your customer is the one you’re marketing to. Sometimes those feelings override any logic about their need for your product, or even their ability to pay. So professionalism and the personal touch aren’t opposites – you’ve got to do both, and make them feel like working with you is the right thing to do.
Strictly professional = robotic responses = unhappy customers
If our buying decisions are influenced by our hearts, then professionals need to make sure that hearts are happy too.
A local and recent example was when I had my 5 year-old’s eyes checked this summer. The optician was probably professional, but because he shushed me (yes really!) when I tried to clarify a point in her exam, I went back to complain.
And it can get more serious than that: there is the famous American case of the unhappy medical patient who wanted to sue the anaesthetist for malpractice. All the evidence showed that the fault actually lay with the surgeon, but because the patient had found the surgeon so caring, listening, and careful, she refused to direct any blame toward him, even though he’d actually botched the operation. She continued to insist on litigation against a totally innocent man – whose only real offense was treating her coldly and indifferently.
Story for the rest of us
Contrary to what we used to believe about work, we don’t have to choose between being personal and professional. They can actually achieve each other. Tales of your experience can show off your expertise and make you new friends and customers. The trick is to choose the right stories that will establish your product as solid, reliable and necessary, and show off just what a regular guy or gal you are.
Whether you’re running your own business or traditionally employed, the only thing that differentiates you from the competition is you. There are almost certainly loads of people who can do your work better, or cheaper, or faster, or even invent a solution that does away with the need for you altogether. The personal touch you bring, the connection you can make by showing your customers that you understand what they’re going through, cannot be duplicated by anyone. Your story, and the stories you create in doing business together, are the most way you will get the edge and succeed.
Next week I’ll show you four really easy stories to come up with, to bring that personal touch to your website.
Do you have any experiences of how combining the personal touch with your professionalism has made a magical combination? I’d love to hear about it. If all this is new to you, I’ve got a new article called What’s the story then? which might help you understand more.
Member since: 23rd September 2013
I’m Director and Shop Manager of Kett's Books, a social enterprise bookshop in Wymondham, and I write the White Dot Business Writing Blog. Life in the bookshop keeps the business writing advice real.