Knowledge Isn’t Enough to be an Expert

June 2018 — A couple of years ago, after being a long-time user of Nokia and Windows phones, I decided to switch to an iPhone. I felt very uncomfortable about the transition. Even though I knew bits and pieces about the Apple world I was about to embark on, I stared at my new smartphone in horror.

By Sari Aapola

The salesperson working with me was unable to understand the level of instruction I needed – for example, how to navigate the phone or close apps running in the background. As an expert, he wanted to boast about all of the fancy features of the phone and couldn’t quite grasp the fact that the basic things I used to do that were second nature with my old phone were suddenly difficult for me. Eventually I left the store with a brand-new phone, but I felt unsure and totally out of my element.

It was a good example of what an expert really should encompass. On one level, an expert means that you have a deep level of understanding and education in a particular subject, which is certainly something to be proud of. But it also means you have a responsibility to use the power of your knowledge to benefit others – and that includes the customer. To create an excellent customer experience, it is essential to think thoroughly about how you can best share your expertise. You need to listen attentively and ask the right questions to determine the level of understanding that your customer has and how well you can meet his/her needs.

An extreme example of the need for effective sharing of knowledge is the relationship between a doctor and a patient. The doctor is an authority in something that is of utmost importance to us – our own health. Being treated condescendingly in a healthcare setting can compound a patient’s uncomfortable feelings in an already difficult situation – and worse, it can jeopardize the treatment plan.

“A wise expert doesn’t try to make the customer feel inadequate.

On a more pragmatic level, people working in support functions are also experts who we turn to in need of assistance. Yet, for a long time those employed in these jobs have lacked information about their customers’ history, and thus weren’t able to fully help them. Now that we are able to gather data efficiently from various sources and disseminate it easily to those who need it, things are different. It has enabled people in customer support to become even more competent and capable experts.

Along with this new ability to closely understand the customer, we should remember the importance of listening and communicating effectively so that this greater knowledge about the customer doesn’t end up causing greater confusion and problems. If the expert, inspired by all the data available, starts to act like a know-it-all, then the customer service experience is not enhanced – but rather diminished. When all the basic and historical information is readily available in a customer service situation, it is important 1) to make sure that both the expert and the customer view things in the same way, and 2) that the expert listens to what the customer is really asking for.

I wish the expert at the mobile carrier store understood that a wise expert doesn’t try to make the customer feel inadequate. Expertise and knowledge are great things that ultimately can lead to excellent customer experiences. But those experiences don’t come about through knowledge only, but also through smart experts who can listen, empathize and communicate well.

Tags Customer Experience, Expert, Communication, Listening, Customer Service

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