What I learned about customer service from swimming with sharks

There’s that customer again.

You recognize the name lurking in the queue.

You’re not supposed to, but you skip their email. You bounce their phone call. You have to take a pee break when their chat comes in.

The last thing you want to do is deal with that person again. They are ready to chomp on anyone they can get, unleashing their wrath about some problem they are having with your company. They freak you out more than that spider in the corner of your bathroom that you can’t reach.

You notice another employee taking their call, quiet, actively listening. They don’t seem happy, but they don’t seem disgruntled. More scanning of their eyes on the computer screen, nodding, clearly tuning in and engaging with the customer. Wait, now they are laughing? What in the world? They hang up the phone.  Issue resolved. WTF?!

When my cousin, who lives on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, asked me if I had interest in a pelagic shark swim – meaning – literally hopping off of a boat into deep ocean water in a swimsuit, no cage for protection, and swimming with sharks,  my heart started to race. While being a mermaid is one of my life goals, I wasn’t too sure about this opportunity. I gave it lots of thought, read lots of reviews and after checking out some amazing pictures, my return text was “yes, count me in.”

The day arrives and we’re on the boat, cruising out to deeper waters, about 30-40 minutes off shore of Oahu.

The tour guide educates us more about these predators – how they are inherently curious about who is in their home. Your goal, while in the water, is to continue to make eye contact with every shark. Turn your head slowly and constantly to be on the lookout. Make sure they see you. Look them right in the eye. This shows you are acknowledging their presence. They are acknowledging you right back.

It’s communication in the most raw form with a predator that has very large teeth and can eat you for breakfast. Suddenly, angry customers don’t seem all that bad.

We stop the boat to see what shark friends we can find.

I felt nervous. I was second guessing my decision.

Then, we stopped the boat and were quiet, waiting to find some sharks. I captured that moment here:

The second I saw this shark (in the video above) I was SO excited. My heart was racing from excitement of being in the water with these special creatures.

We gently enter the warm ocean, 350 feet deep, with snorkel gear and hold onto a rope tied to the boat. I dip my goggles into the water and see deep blue around me. Then suddenly, in the distance, this face is approaching me:

Gradually it gets closer and closer toward me. I’m making eye contact as the adrenaline pours through my veins but I’m trying hard to remain as calm as I can.

It dips down below me and swims gracefully away into the sea. I am so close, I can see the ridges on its body, the marker on it’s fin – I am just hanging out with a 9-10 foot long shark.

More sharks swim by, mostly Galapagos and Black Tip, we’re experiencing something magical with these creatures.

And, it made me realize that the things that seem the most scary are that way due to lack of understanding. The more we take time to listen, ask questions and learn, we can dive into deep waters and face what was once incredibly frightening.  Yes, this also does apply to that angry customer in the queue.

Next time you’re in Oahu:

Here’s the company I went shark diving with

What’s something that you initially thought was super scary but after learning more about it, realized it was actually an amazing experience? Share with me in the comments or over on Twitter.

Jenny Dempsey is currently the the Customer Experience Manager for NumberBarn.com. She's the co-founder and regular contributor over at CustomerServiceLife.com. She's also a self-care coach for customer service agents and leaders at JennyDempsey.com. She is the mother to a toothless rescue cat named Chompers. Avocados and veggie tacos are the way to her heart. Hanson fan for life.

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