Last week we collected Adele's glasses. She's only 3 1/2. We'd not even noticed that she had a vision problem, and I suspected that the highly-distracted consultant at the hospital had given her the benefit of her experience (think 'Blink') rather than the focus of her attention on the day we were there. I was skeptical.
Then I looked through the lenses as I was cleaning them (the first of many hundreds of times. Small children have sticky fingers and poor aim when eating ice cream cones, spaghetti bolognese, etc.)
I say I looked through - I tried, but I couldn't see a thing. It was like looking into a cloudy soupy mess. She, meanwhile, sits quietly looking through them, occasionally commenting 'I can see a bird' or 'I can see a book,' fascinated by discovering a world she never knew was there.
So I was wrong. I had no idea she'd not been seeing what we could. So grateful thanks to the process (and to the government for sticking with it) that booked her an appointment literally upon her birth to have her eyes examined 3 years later, based on the family history of wearing glasses.
It's thrown up lots of learning for me about service and empathy. I took her to the locally-owned opticians in our little town to get the glasses made, so it was a familiar environment and not the factory atmosphere of Specsavers. Now I got to Specsavers myself, but partly out of fascination, because they stay so busy, and yet despite the expectations my prejudices against big business set me up with, every single one of them seems happy and helpful and genuinely knowledgable. I'd love to get into their recruitment and training to see how they do it.
In our little town, we had the same lady looking after her every time, but their processes were really poor, and I ended up getting cross with them, which is disappointing when I'd actually been trying to go somewhere where we could have a relationship. They also assumed we'd want the NHS free glasses, rather than paying a measlly £13 for prettier frames, and they never offered scratch-resistant or reduced glare. I'm used to buying glasses. They're not used to 3 year-olds, or they'd have tried to talk me into this.
But the best was at her nursery this morning. I'd prepared for the rush of encouragement and compliments they'd have for her, but they are soooo switched on about little kids.
They never said a word. They asked her about the toy duck she'd brought, asked if she was already wearing sun cream, and if she wanted Weetabix or toast for breakfast.
I took their cue, gave her a hug and kiss, and left - a little wiser.
Through the week I saw a lot of examples of failing to anticipate the customer's need, but the nursery's silence moves empathy into the space of positive action - by saying and doing nothing. Adele wants to be the same as the other kids. She doesn't want attention called to her difference, even in the shape of praise.
And so through Adele's glasses, now I see something much more clearly than I ever had before: acceptance is so much better than reassurance, and it gets us so close to what customers or audiences we communicate with need. It's just the right place to start.