I have extremely strong feelings regarding customer service responsiveness. Whether I am providing service or receiving it, whether in my personal life or my professional life, my standards are very high.

Last fall, a client complained about one of my colleagues not responding to an email. When I spoke with my colleague, she apologized and said she missed the email because her inbox was overflowing. She said something like, “That happens sometimes.” I replied we cannot let that happen. Like I said, I have very strong feelings about this.

Months later, I needed to have a call with that same colleague about the same client. I decided to call my colleague rather than email. She did not pick up, so I was preparing to leave her a voice mail message when I heard, “The voicemail box is full.”

To me, there should never be a situation where a customer service person’s overflowing voicemails prevent a client from leaving a message.

I sent her an email asking to schedule a Zoom. She wrote back that it might be better if we had a call rather than a Zoom, because she had been having trouble with Zoom lately.

Some people may be in a Wi-Fi desert, or perhaps financially they’re not in a position to have the best Wi-Fi, but I did not think that was the case with this colleague.

When we got on the phone, I asked her very nicely what the hassle was with Zoom. She explained, ever since the school year started, her daughter’s Zoom classes seemed to be slowing down their Wi-Fi.

I wasn’t sure what the possible fix could be, if any, and felt badly to hear she was dealing with this issue.

When I mentioned about her voicemail box being full, she said a dear friend of hers had passed away last year, and she hadn’t had the heart to delete a bunch of old voicemails from that friend.

Wow! That was powerful. And I was relieved I had sought first to understand rather than allowing myself to react based on an assumption that she was simply being neglectful.

I told her I used to save voicemails from my kids when they were little—adorable messages I wanted to hold onto. In order to keep them without overloading my voicemail box, I would play them on speakerphone and recorded them on an audio cassette. (These days I would record them into voice memos on my cell phone, an idea she liked.)

“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood” is the fifth of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the all-time, best-selling, personal development books.

We often jump to conclusions and make assumptions with incomplete information. When we do that—when we fail to seek to understand someone else’s point of view before seeking to be understood—we create problems in our relationships.

As Covey wrote, instead of reacting, push the pause button, and then respond rather than reacting.

Think about situations when you have reacted. Ask yourself if the result would have been better if you had paused, and then responded by seeking first to understand the other person’s point of view. I bet ,  in nearly all cases, you will find the answer to be “yes”.

Try this for the next 21 days (or longer if needed) to develop the habit. You won’t regret it.

Best regards,