…because some thoughts are worth remembering
When I organized an off-site meeting for my tech support staff for training and team building exercises, one of the first questions I posed to them was what our goal was as tech support staff. “To fix their problems,” they immediately replied. Maybe we can do one better than that, or frame it in a different perspective. But their answers remained “us” focused and immediate: what we were doing for them.
I didn’t want to give them the answer I thought of. I wanted them to figure it out.
We went through a series of compassion exercises.
I put up a big sheet of butcher paper and asked them to jot down what our situation was and what we were thinking and feeling as tech support staff handling customer calls and emails. On another piece of butcher paper, I asked them to jot down the customer’s situation and what they were thinking and feeling.
They got good at guessing after they got to list their frustrations and funny anecdotes: they might be feeling scared that they did something wrong, they are stressed because they need the Internet to complete their task, they don’t understand they instructions they were given so they might be confused, they feel lost because they can’t begin to describe the problem they are experiencing, etc.
After coming up with the customer-side list and reflecting on the list of their feelings, they thought they could be more compassionate when they were on the phone, because no matter how frustrating the problem or how rude the customer sounded, we were in the position to help, and they were worse off than we were.
The next step based on this new found capacity for compassion, was how we would behave ourselves and what guidelines we would create for the tech support team in interacting with customers.
I had hoped before the meeting that they would come up with some sort of procedures that would result in reducing the time between the customer inquiry and the initial call back or email response.
After this exercise, they did exactly that, unprompted, and they had come up with a tighter guideline (metrics and goals that were tougher to meet than what I was thinking of): e.g., we need to dive for the phones so we can pick up the call within 3 rings, because with every ring, their negative emotions will escalate, and it would be harder for us to address them when we finally speak.
There were cases where they wanted to institute a new guideline, but they also hesitated because they saw other issues that would create a different problem. For example, they thought it would be a good idea for all of us to sign one’s name in tech support emails, or answer with our names when picking up the phone, so the customer felt they were getting a personal service and could identify the staff member they were dealing with. They had concerns about privacy, and there was a staff who didn’t want their estranged father to track him down. Instead of shooting down the idea itself, they hung in there to come up with a fix so we could still make it a guideline. Perhaps it was enough just to identify ourselves with our first names only.
Because it was their idea, they were willing to provide whatever fixes they needed to keep the idea going. I didn’t encounter the kind of resistance I usually do, when I suggest they do something and they come up with a list of reasons why they couldn’t adopt my recommendations.
Self-generated ideas are better than recommendations given by the boss, because they are empowered ideas. These ideas are also empowered because they tend to be better than the one given by the boss, when the boss had set the environment where the staff had the opportunity to explore the company vision and the mission are shared by everyone.
Recently, I found a better format for the compassion exercise in the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. You can find the online instruction on their version of the exercise (just the brainstorming part) called Empathy Map, where you draw a circle in the middle of a piece of butcher paper, and identify a person, and write in his/her title. then You draw lines diverging from the edge of the circle to the edge of the butcher paper, so that the rest of the paper is divided into several segments/wedges. Use each of the segments as an aspect of what the identified person is experiencing: hearing, feeling, doing, seeing, saying, tasting, etc. as appropriate (here’s a sample poster, better yet, here’s a google doc version).
For the discussion section, ask the group, “What does this person want?” and extrapolate to figuring out the person’s motivation. Based on the brainstorming and the discussion, you can close the session by exchanging ideas on what the group can do for that person.
Oh, I almost forgot. The staff decided their goal was customer satisfaction. It’s not enough to fix their problems (and it may not be “their” problem!) or for us to have the right answer we give, but that the customers feel they were heard and are satisfied when they hang up the phone.
Photo: A bird happily resting on a sheep by the Stonehenge, England.