It happened. I caught myself doing it today, September 2, 2014 . I swore I would never do it and there I was doing exactly that. As I started hanging up the phone I knew exactly what I had done. And it pissed me off. But let’s back up.
It’s 2006 and I’m travelling back from a conference in Montreal. I’m booked on a reasonable flight that will get me home at a reasonable hour and man was I looking forward to getting home. It had been a “long” conference. I had no corporate responsibilities that weekend and the last I recall was a smoked meat sandwich from Dunn’s at 4am followed by a power nap leading into a 9am power session with Tony Robbins. Did I mention that I was fairly eager to get home? I’m at the airport and feeling relieved that this trip is over. I am heading home. Unless…. you guessed it. I’m booked on Canada’s favourite airline and they have oversold the flight! As you can well imagine I am not impressed. I make my way to the counter to “discuss” this with the “lovely” young lady behind the desk. She does not have her game face on and makes it very clear that this is my issue not hers. I started by challenging the reality that something like this could ever happen. I mean let’s face it, there are a finite number of seats on the plane it really shouldn’t be that hard to match the number of tickets sold to the number of seats on the plane. I begged with her to check again. After all we have computers now. This couldn’t possibly be happening. I have to get HOME! Yes, I was in denial. It was then that she hit me with it. She used the dreaded word. As she shuffled me off to help the person in line behind me she said “Someone will call you soon with alternate flight arrangements”.
And there it was. The most ambiguous word on the planet. “Soon” Clearly her and I had a very different meaning of the word. In my lackluster, exhausted and utterly defeated state “Soon” could not come soon enough. To be honest I cannot recall exactly how long I had to wait to get on another flight home. What I can tell you is that I can certainly vividly recall the feeling of sheer exhaustion and disappointment that those two terms gave me. I mean who exactly is someone and when exactly is soon. If there was ever a time that you might have seen a grown man cry in an airport that was it. I was destroyed. Devastated.
Which brings me back to my conversation today. We have just brought on a new mortgage agent. They have been working on getting all their paperwork in line to make the move from their old employer to us. Our mortgage associates are independent, self employed, commission based contractors. Any downtime costs them money so we work very hard to make the transition as smooth as possible. There are a couple of pieces that are dependent on our suppliers and can take up to 48 hours. Our admin team had done everything properly and we were just waiting on one last piece. I made the call to formally welcome them to the team and review the process that would follow. I explained that the last piece was out of our hands and we were simply waiting. We discussed a few other formalities and finished off the conversation. As I said goodbye with one of our transition team sitting in front of me at my desk it happened. I said “Thanks for the conversation. Someone will get back to you soon to wrap up the rest of the loose ends”. As I hung up I immediately looked across the desk at our admin with a sly smile and said “What did I do wrong there?” She smiled back with a grin that told me she knew what I was talking about and replied “You said ‘Someone’ and you said ‘Soon'”. Bingo! What I should have said was “Shawna will call you before 4 o’clock today to give you an update”. I had Shawna call her back immediately and clarify “who” someone was and “when” soon would be.
You see whether we are talking to peers, customers or subordinates ambiguity only leads to confusion, frustration and uncertainty. When it comes to our mortgage consumers this is especially true. We all know that purchasing or refinancing a home can be an extremely stressful process. Often times not only are clients waiting on deadlines for financing approval but they are also emotionally vulnerable as well. I mean lets face it. Who likes to be “declined”, “denied”, or “refused” anything. Making application for financing puts our clients in a position where they are susceptible to rejection. It is not a fun place to be. And while we, as mortgage brokers, don’t always know exactly what approval timelines are going to look like we can certainly make sure our clients know exactly when we will get back to them with an update. Certainly the phrase “Someone will call you soon” does not leave anyone with a very comfortable feeling.
Be specific about your touch points, how you will make contact and who will be making the contact. If it is to be an assistant make sure they know that up front so they do not feel slighted. If it is to be an email over a call, set the expectation. Be very clear on your next steps and even if there is trouble down the road you will have earned the trust of your client by doing exactly what you say you will do.
Beware of the language you use with your staff, co-workers and clients. “Someone” and “Soon” are two words that you should avoid using in your professional life at all costs.