Narcissism in business is nothing new.
Business leaders and creative directors without house-sized egos won’t be able to rile people behind their ideas or get their visions implemented. In other words, they won’t get very far.
Don Hambrick is a scholar and academic devoted to the study of the effect of CEOs on company performance. He spent significant amount of time finding a way to rank tech industry CEOs based on their narcissism.
His methodology proved to be surprisingly simple and effective. He scanned every earning call issued by each company’s CEO, and examined the number of times they used words such as “I”, “me” , “my” as opposed to “us” and “we” in their Q&A publications. This may seem like a silly way to judge someone, but in Hambrick’s case, it worked particularly well.
He ranked CEOs based on their usage frequency of singular personal pronouns. Not surprisingly, Larry Page of Google and the late Steve Jobs made their way to the top of the list.
It makes perfect sense when you consider that CEOs with narcissistic personality traits personally invest themselves and therefore take responsibility of solving issues directly facing the company. Steve Jobs, perceived to be widely narcissistic, was able to drive Apple, like many other projects under his tenure to success.
Could a little narcissism also be beneficial in customer service?
Great service agents are masters of their communication skills. They have a firm grasp on language, social skills and sentence structure. The right way of conveying information to customers is rightly examined and debated.
While earlier customer service departments were seen as a cost center, today’s companies consider customer interactions as the driving force of the company. It’s a critical component of sales, marketing (including word-of-mouth marketing and social media marketing).
All this means increased responsibilities for the support team. Instead of being stuck in a cubicle at an offshore office, organizations are guiding their support, product and development teams using customer data. And – since they primarily interact with customers, support agents are the ones that understand customer concerns better than anyone.
As customer service takes center stage in company decision making, support staff are empowered with making quick authoritative decisions to improve the customer experience. They’re encouraged to speak up at managerial meetings and drive change at the company.
Support functions requires agents to stay on top of customer expectations at every level of their journey. Support reps need to know when and how to upsell, down sell, run webinars, compose self-service documentation, work with sales and product managers.
So while taking into account these monumental responsibilities of today’s support agents, it’s important to give them the same degree of autonomy that other top managers enjoy.
Language and word choice
We have two types of words: function words and content words. Content words are nouns, verbs and adjectives and they convey the bulk of what we want to say. We use about 100 very common function words, and they help guide language subconsciously. Since function words are all processed by our brains differently, they bring about different emotional responses.
Certain phrases emphasize the speaker’s narcissism and undermine their relationship to the team. At the same time, they show decisiveness and confidence – a good trait in any leadership position. For example, you’d want a support agent who naturally exudes such qualities. Next time you’re interviewing a service rep, turn the air conditioner up and pay attention to their reaction. If they say “I’m cold” or “It’s cold”, rather than “I think it’s cold” he or she may be a better fit.
You shouldn’t stop this thinking with your support reps, however.
It’s worth to review your own implementation of plural personal pronouns (such as “we” and “us”) throughout your support and company knowledge base. Aside from overusing the infamous “we”, many companies add in less-than-assertive phrases that end up undermining the credibility of support itself.
Starting your sentences with “I” removes responsibility from your tone and shifts the focus on yourself, not the problem at hand. In the same way, saying “we” dissolves accountability while shifting the focus away from the problem.
For example, instead of:We’re sorry you’re experiencing a problem. It seems that your version is outdated.
Say:I see that your version is outdated. Unfortunately our newest update won’t work with it. I’d be happy to guide you through the upgrade process.
What makes support interactions memorable are these moments of “synergy” between the support agent and the customer. Next time your customers contact support, be honest yet assertive. You won’t be sugar coating the problem at hand and your customers will respect you more for it.
Team function of narcissism
One of the main reasons why narcissistic bosses are the most effective is that they are original, creative thinkers. Narcissism is able to bring about actionable decisions to drive the company forward.
Workplace culture, too, does its part to help customer service teams go above and beyond in investing themselves in being personally accountable for every customer interaction. By encouraging competition, you enable a climate of constant improvement.
When companies hide behind “we are doing our best”, the definition of “best” gets distorted, since no one can actually do their best while just following the status quo. This isn’t the path to take in the face of market fluctuations and changing customer expectations.
In short, customer service reps need to be creative and think outside the box. They need all the tools available in order to make their customers happy. But first of all, they need to be able to bend corporate policies and remain free from managerial interference.