Are you responsible to ask your customers “Are you OK”?

Question: A customer you’re talking with starts crying, do you

Aspire Magazine Article Covera)   Ask if they’re ok and need to talk?
b)   Ignore the fact they are crying?
c)   Ask them to come back when they have composed themselves?

Silly question? Well my experience, more often than not, is that most answer this question with the action of “b”.

So the real question is: Is it your responsibility to ask someone if they are ok?

Emotional and mental well-being and care is at the core of my being. I know it can be quite confronting how open I am about such things, but I also know how I have helped people by being so transparent.

At the beginning of May, I officially “outted” myself as an anxiety sufferer within a campaign for an Australian charity Beyondblue who: provides information about depression to consumers, carers and health professionals.

I have suffered anxiety and depression my entire life and at 41 have only started to understand the freedom of good mental health in the last five years. So, I understand the delicate balancing act of how sadness can turn into something more sinister and how a simple offer of care can change a life and someone’s outlook and well-being.

The reality is, though, you would never have known I was suffering. Very rarely do those suffering from anxiety or depression show how they are feeling. We put on a brave face because we don’t want to bother anyone. When we do show negative emotion/s we often need help and, if not or we’d prefer to deal with it on our own, we’ll say so but be grateful someone reached out to ask.

My Mum has worked in customer service and retail for 30 years. She has always talked about how disingenuous being asked, “how are you”, by a sales assistant is. I had never thought about it and so took note of how many times I automatically asked a client/customer. The answer was often! My Mum said she didn’t like the question because the person asking didn’t know her and ultimately didn’t care.

And this is where I debated my Mum. After my mini, solo market research I realised I did actually care and wanted to know the answer, even if I had asked without thinking. And when occasionally someone said “terrible, tired, stressed, upset, etc.” I would then take time to give them the opportunity to talk, if they chose.

Is this my responsibility to take time to care for someone I may not know personally? I say yes, it absolutely is, and is one of my core value propositions now as a business owner. Actually, it’s more than business a value; it’s a personal value because caring shouldn’t be 9am to 5pm!

None of us know what’s going on in people’s lives. I wrote in May’s Aspire an article questioning business owners if they were wrongly judging their customers; this goes to the very heart of what I want people to consider:

It’s too easy to pretend that everything is ok and that we don’t have an impact on other people’s lives. We (potentially) impact everyone we meet and speak with and I think we have lost sight of that living in a world where it’s easier to keep your head down looking at an online world via a smartphone. Look up, and you may just notice someone needing assistance. Sadly, it seems, we prefer to live in ignorance these days for fear of how it may affect our day. Good gracious if we missed the next train, or brought attention to a situation, or someone started crying on our “shoulder” or, heaven forbid, we didn’t get home on time.

Anxiety and depression affects around 3 million people in Australia, 40 million in USA and 15 million in the UK. These are significant numbers and with less than 50% of sufferers seeking professional help and, instead, put on their daily mask saying to the world they are doing just fine, the reality of mental health with the people you surround yourself with every day is even more eye opening. But even with these masks, anxiety and depression sufferers eventually get to a tipping point where things – life – just get too hard and we buckle; some days we can’t choose for this to happen in the anonymity of our own home.

A simple question of “Are you Ok” can literally save someone’s life, or make them feel less alone and get them through the rest of their day. Never underestimate the power of the question.

As business owners we are responsible for many things – the rotating hats of roles and skill-sets are endless. Counselor or care-giver may not be one you would necessarily think about writing into your position description, but I challenge you to add it to your list. And I don’t mean to try and take on the task of offering advice, because you obviously can’t and shouldn’t, but to lend an ear is often all that’s required. Think of it as your bonus add-on service offering.

I am proud to contribute to a publication with an ethos that businesses should focus on maximising positive impact rather than maximising profit. I often joke that maybe I’m a bad business owner by not focusing on the dollars and cents with my clients. But ultimately I don’t care because I’m here to leave my mark, and if that’s by making someone feel like they matter because I cared to ask if they were ok, as opposed to working on their marketing strategy, then I’d say my mark has well and truly been made.

As a consequence, I have marketed my business with a unique signature that only my individual clients and I will only ever know, and that’s pretty special. How would it feel for you to know you’ve done the same for your customers?

[DISCLOSURE] If you or someone you know or speak with needs professional help or counselling, please seek the appropriate guidance in your country. In Australia contact Lifeline telephone 13 11 14 or Beyondblue for information and advice.

As seen in Aspire Magazine

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  1. Posted August 5, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    People will always matter more to me than profit!

    I think we all have a responsibility to care enough about each other to listen to our intuition and know when to ask the right questions and simply listen, or to ask if other help might be appropriate. Sadly not everyone knows how the hell they are themselves, and therefore struggle to either ask the question authentically or how to monitor where their own stuff starts and stops.

    The best we can ever do is know our own story, and have a willingness to hear other peoples. Attending to our own self care and maintaining healthy boundaries helps me to be clear about where my stuff starts and stops.

    I read this beautiful quote somewhere recenlty and can’t remember where… “the world is full of stories, not just atoms”. Asking “R U ok?” may well be the starting point to understanding another’s story, and helping make their day a better one.

    Well crafted, I am so enjoying watching your blogosphere expand Megan! xo

    • Posted August 6, 2013 at 12:21 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your beautiful words and support Bron 🙂

      I know it’s not easy for people to always ask a “stranger” #RUOK, and you rightly state that if you’re not true in your own self development and awareness it can be quite confronting. But I still like to put these things out there and challenge people’s thinking. And I know how much it can truly save someone knowing “someone” can care.

  2. Marg Lambert
    Posted August 7, 2013 at 4:44 am | Permalink

    Great blog Megan and a great challenge you put out there. It is definitely your wonderful trade mark to check out how people are going, but I suppose not everyone is comfortable with asking the question, and there are so many people that don’t pay attention to their emotional state anyway so don’t really know how to check it out with others. I guess everyone is wired differently, but the more we are not afraid of our emotions, the healthier will be our society I believe.

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

      Thanks Marg 🙂

      I like to think of it as a challenge to business owners to consider a sense of community and care. But I completely agree that everyone has their own “stuff” to go through.

  3. Posted August 7, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Great article. With my clients, I do ask them if everything is ok. The really interesting thing is that sometimes I am wondering at the time if I have done something wrong. When I enquire it normally isn’t the case and they will let you know what is going on with them. I find that I have built great relationships with my clients as a result. Very powerful read. Thank you!

    • Posted August 7, 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your lovely comment Belinda 🙂

      It’s a powerful thing to develop trusted and caring relationships with customers, I completely agree. Imagine the power of community that would exist if more business owners took the time to work on this side of their business – they’d have a loyal tribe too.

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