advice from the experts

One of the more interesting things I’ve encountered in customer service is advice from the experts. And by interesting, I do mean baffling.

We expect doctors, veterinarians, plumbers, repairmen, day care managers, and nurses to know their stuff. And well they should. But one thing that surprises me time and time again is advice demanded and given outside their field of expertise. Not because it’s flat-out wrong (though it often is), but because it’s so outside of their field I can’t imagine why a patient/customer would ask it or why the nurse/vet/plumber would be comfortable doling it out.

I mean, when simplified, it makes perfect sense. You wouldn’t ask your podiatrist how to fix your sink, and yet, I wonder how many people would take that podiatrist’s directions on how to fix the sink if it were offered. Really, to me, it’s not that anyone would take that advice. It’s that the podiatrist would offer it. It’s that someone would ask a podiatrist in the first place.

It’s human nature to put more weight on advice (instructions, information, what-have-you) given from those in positions of social authority. Doctors and lawyers get wide berth. Their opinions get respected across the board, to the point they end up fielding questions that have nothing to do with what they studied. Since no one likes a doctor without an answer, he comes up with one. We would question his ability to practice medicine if there was something in the world he didn’t know, wouldn’t we?

(According to Chabris and Simons, we do. The myth that confidence equates to competence is a hard one to shatter).

Last week we took our ferret to the veterinarian (don’t worry, the vet didn’t make any recommendations for our roof) and she had to look things up. She hadn’t had a ferret patient in a few years. She triple-checked her work. She made changes to her initial prognosis as she talked with us, consulted her books, and reweighed our little beast. I think a younger me would have been off-put by such blatant un-knowledge but now I can be glad she chose accuracy over assumption. I appreciated that she didn’t just prescribe the first thing that came to mind, that she was willing to acknowledge our problem as outside her area of expertise, that she took the time to read the ingredients list one more time to catch an undesirable component.  That’s advice from an expert I can follow.

And I am pleased to report that thanks to her diligence, The Goat’s doing a lot better.

The Goat

It takes more guts to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’d like to look that up before I say for sure’ than it does to BS your way through an answer. I have a lot of respect for those who can.

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