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Most customer service managers are on a never ending quest to improve customer service. Some solutions are obvious. We know, for example, that monitoring calls and giving agents feedback helps them improve their performance. Other solutions remain hidden behind blind spots. I recently met with a call center manager to see if I could help her improve customer service. She had a list of 20 action items she had been working on but still felt she wasn’t making enough progress. My first question caught her by surprise.
“How will you know if you’ve improved customer service?”
It’s hard to imagine an experienced call center manager needing a consultant to suggest such an obvious starting point, but that’s why blind spots are so frustrating. The manager’s blind spot was probably due to one of three causes that are commonly found in call center environments. Cause #1: Stress Stress comes with the territory in a call center environment where we often feel overloaded with work. A natural reaction to this type of stress is to try to grind away at the problem through sheer effort and determination. We come in a little earlier, stay a little later, and tell ourselves that things will eventually get better if we can somehow work through this mess. Unfortunately, this approach reinforces our old habits because we’re just doing more of what we’ve already been doing. The solution to overcoming the stress-induced blind spot is doing exactly what our stressed out brain doesn’t want us to do. Stop. Breathe. Take time to clearly define the problem. The call center manager I met with was so busy slogging through an overwhelming list of special project items while keeping up with her existing workload that she wasn’t able to step back and think about clearly defining the problem she was trying to solve. Cause #2: Framing Our brains make sense of large amounts of information by grouping it into familiar patterns. This has many useful applications, such as giving us the ability to read, but it also makes it hard to see things from a new perspective. The longer a call center manager spends working in their call center, the more familiar the daily patterns and problems become. When this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to recognize new opportunities. Here’s a visual example. Without lifting your finger, can you connect all of the dots below using only four straight lines? (In other words, all four straight lines have to be connected.)
You can see the solution at the bottom of this post. The solution to this problem is obvious in hindsight, but it can initially be difficult to solve. Why? Our brain naturally sees the dots arranged in a box pattern, so most people try to solve the puzzle by confining themselves to a box that doesn’t really exist. There are two easy ways to change your frame of reference. One is to engage someone who can offer a fresh perspective. That’s why I was able to see the call center manager’s problem so quickly. The second strategy is to consciously change your frame. For example, the call center manager could have set aside her action plan (the current frame) and used the “five why’s” technique to reframe the problem. This technique requires to you take the initial problem statement, “We need to improve customer service,” and ask “Why?” until you get to what you believe is the real problem to be solved. Cause #3: The Dunning Kruger Effect There’s a phenomenon called the Dunning Kruger Effect where the less competent a person is, the greater the likelihood that the person will overrate their ability. It’s common in customer service where we all know the difference between good and bad service as a customer, so we assume we are extremely competent at providing customer service. One of the best documented examples is a 2006 study by Bain and Company where 80 percent of executives rated their companies’ customer service as outstanding but only 8 percent of those companies’ customers agreed. The call center manager was an experienced supervisor, but she had never held a position that required her to create customer service improvement strategies. Without this experience, she didn’t know where to start on her customer service improvement project. Ironically, the only way to get better at evaluating your own ability is to improve your ability so you know the difference between good and poor performance. This requires constant improvement, ongoing learning, and frequent benchmarking with industry groups like ICMI. Conclusion The very best call center leaders work diligently to identify blind spots and reveal the truths they hide. Consider it a very healthy paranoia to constantly wonder “How am I doing?” and “How can I do better?” Puzzle Solution:
Jeff Toister is President of Toister Performance Solutions, Inc. and the author of The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service. Follow him on Twitter: @toister
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