At 16 years old I was 5’10” and weighed about 145 pounds. Tall, slim, very reserved, as we said in Jamaica, but not shy. I had no problem speaking with individuals and in front of groups of people of all demographics.
I was always considered mature for my age and found many of my peers gigglers and chatterboxes. One of my closest connections who epitomized what it meant to be an extrovert, told my mother that she did not understand me. I was too moody. You see, she loved to make friends and talk, while I was content with a few friends and enjoyed sitting by myself reading a book. Pam was “best friends” with people she met two days ago, whereas I had only got as far as knowing their name.
From High School to the Workplace
Just before graduating from High School at the age of 16, I applied for a job and was interviewed at the Head Office of the largest commercial Bank in Jamaica. Based on my test scores and performance, and even before my Cambridge examination results were received from England, six weeks after graduation I walked into the main branch of Barclays Bank in downtown Kingston as a Clerk/Typist in the Foreign Exchange Department.
I loved the clerical part of my job but viewed the times I had to go to the Customer Counter as interruptions in my day, even though I smiled and spoke pleasantly to customers.
It was clear to me that something needed to change and the change had to come from within me.
Customer Service Training
Three months after my start date, several of us were selected by “Upstairs” to attend a 10-day Customer Service training at the Bank’s Training Center.
As the training progressed, I began to appreciate the meaning of good customer service. When instances of poor customer service were mentioned and discussed, something inside of me recoiled. It made me feel sick that people were treated that way. On the other hand, as layers were peeled back, which uncovered the value of good customer service, I was drawn to those examples and could feel a lightness in my spirit and a connection to the results. I wanted to make people feel good. I wanted them to be delighted with the service they received.
On one occasion while in the training, I was transported back to work as I visualized the large columns and high ceilings of the first floor of the bank. It was quite imposing if you were not a regular customer or visitor. The Foreign Exchange Department was next to the long row of Teller “cages” and was right across from the front door off a busy main street.
The elderly gentleman pushed and then realized his mistake, so he pulled open the heavy glass door instead. As he stepped up and into the lobby, he looked around hesitantly. Uncertainty was clearly marked on his face until he turned left slightly, looked up, and saw the sign that said FOREIGN EXCHANGE DEPARTMENT. With a slight look of relief, he walked over to the counter. One of the two front staff was working with a customer and the other was nowhere to be seen, probably on break, so I knew I had to go over to the counter.
I said “Good Afternoon” politely with a slight smile and asked how I could help. The transaction took about 10 minutes then I directed him to the Teller to make his payment for the Bank Draft while I handed the Teller the Draft and paperwork. Turning, I went back to my desk to resume what I’d been working on.
As I sat in the training class, everything I could have done differently became very clear to me and I could not wait to get back to work to apply what I was now learning.
New Attitude and Transformation
Two weeks later I returned to work. As I sat at my desk, I glanced up just as a petite, older lady (of course when you’re 16 everybody is “older”) walked up and into the lobby. It was clear she was heading to our department. It was a busy morning and the two counter staff were busy. As the lady walked towards the counter, I was already on my feet so that we got to the counter about the same time. Smiling broadly I said a happy “Good Morning” and asked, “How may I help you?”
She smiled back, but not before I saw a flicker of surprise that she’d been greeted with such enthusiasm, especially on a Monday morning. I watched her body language change as she relaxed and her voice inflection changed from stilted to pleasantly humorous. We completed our transaction and she left smiling. I felt very grateful. My attitude had contributed to making this lady’s morning a much more pleasant one than it could have been. And if she had dreaded her trip to the bank, it was now a pleasant memory.
At the age of 16, I fell in love…with Customer Service.
It was a delight to watch men and women of all ages enter the lobby with a look of uncertainty, sometimes a little fearful of going the wrong way or showing they did not know what to do, that uncertainty causing their shoulders to curve in a bit and then see the transformation as they were greeted and welcomed. Their posture and entire demeanor changed. They were made to feel important. They felt someone cared and they felt appreciated.
Even though I am an introvert, I’ve always loved people and was taught at an early age to respect everyone. My ministry, which I engaged in even as a child with my parents, reinforced this.
However, that Customer Service training transformed how I viewed customers and my desire to make them feel valued and appreciated. It also led to my own transformation because I no longer viewed customers as an interruption in my day. The focus was no longer on me, but on how I made others feel.
Promotion and New Company
The ability to get along with others perhaps contributed to my promotion within a year of being transferred to a smaller branch. I became the Manager’s Secretary at the grand old age of 18 years old.
Later, I moved back to live with my parents and opted to work for another international company that provided transportation to and from work (something that would have been a challenge had I continued at the bank). In the 16 years, I worked with that company I received four promotions while continuing my education. The Human Resources Administration Diploma with specialization in Training, which I earned from the Jamaica Institute of Management, was one of my favorite achievements. It involved months of travel and late nights.
Throughout my career, but especially in Human Resources, the Customer Service training I received all those years ago served me well and allowed me to be able to be the bridge over many troubled waters between management and employees, and employees and employees. I cultivated excellent relationships with over 300 employees (internal customers) at various levels (hourly/monthly/mid- and upper-management), as well as external customers (vendors/suppliers).
Learning to be an Ambivert
Did my introvert tendencies kick in at times? Yes, they did. There were days when I was under a deadline and just wanted to get certain things done, or I simply did not want to talk. If there was a bubble over my head reflecting my thoughts, it would have said, “Leave me alone…please!”
I still smile at the many times these grown men from the factory, some of whom were old enough to be my father at the time, would just want to talk.
Then there would be a knock on my door and someone wanted to talk. It’s been 31 years since I left that company and migrated to the United States. I still smile at the many times these grown men from the factory, some of whom were old enough to be my father at the time, would just want to talk. They would share private details of their life with me that had nothing to do with their jobs. The other bubble over my head would have said, “What are you sharing these personal things about your life with me?” As they were leaving my office many times they told me, “I just like to come in talk with you, Mrs. Jones. Thank you.”
I am an introvert who has learned to develop extrovert qualities. At the end of the day I still need my space to recover. The butterfly wings become exhausted and need to get calm and rest so as to recover and flit from flower to flower the next day.
My thanks to Mark O’Brien and my colleagues in the “Finding Your Voice” Workshop for challenging each other to write a story on how we overcame a personal or professional challenge. This story encompassed both.