Do Your Employees Know Their REAL Job?

Some service failures are frustratingly obvious.

Take this one for example. I spoke at the CRM Evolution 2014 conference last week. The conference was fantastic (re-cap here).

There was just a small issue with how the hotel set up my breakout room:

It’s obvious that seats shouldn’t be placed directly behind this enormous pillar. So, why did it happen? Ironically, I touched on the root cause in my session on hidden causes of poor customer service.

The root cause is employees who didn’t know their real job.

Try to see this room through the eyes of the people who were responsible. An obvious blunder can easily be overlooked when people are focused on tactical responsibilities:

  • The salesperson who sold the room was focused on selling the event.
  • Banquet staff who set up the room were focused on the event plan.
  • Audio visual staff were focused on the technology.

Nobody stopped to question the big picture because they weren't looking at the big picture.

The problem is caused by something called framing that allows your customers to see what you don’t. The tough part is framing happens to us instinctively. And, it's further supported by job descriptions that read like a laundry list of tasks.

So, what is their real job? Their real job should be helping their guests enjoy a successful conference.

View the job this way and there are multiple opportunities to prevent this service failure from happening.

  • The salesperson could have offered a different room or a different set-up.
  • The banquet staff could have set up the room without the obstructed seating.
  • An audio visual person could have noticed the obstruction and alerted the banquet staff.


Help Employees Find Their Real Job

On a strategic level, companies need a strong customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that’s understood by all employees. 

On a tactical level, employees should see their jobs from their customers’ perspective. Here’s an exercise that can help: 

  1. Write down some of your basic job duties.
  2. Re-imagine each one from your customers’ perspective. 

Here are some examples of customer-focused perspectives excerpted from my book, Service Failure

Sales reps at a flower and plant wholesaler decided their role was helping florists (their primary customer) grow their businesses by helping them select flowers and plants that will sell well in their shops.

Information technology employees working on a college campus determined that their role was helping faculty and staff minimize downtime from malfunctioning computers.

Call center agents at a medical device manufacturer realized their role was helping to save lives by making sure the right products got to the right doctor in time to help the patients who need them.

Service failures are often obvious, but discovering their root causes can often require deeper insight. I've compiled a set of ten exercises you can use to help your team understand some of these obstacles. You can access them by downloading the free Service Failure Workbook

CRM Evolution 2014 Conference Re-cap

I attended the CRM Evolution 2014 conference in New York City this week. It was my first time attending the conference, so I was anxious to see how it would go.

The conference focused on customer engagement strategies and technology. There were also two other conferences sharing the same space, SpeechTek and Customer Service Experience, so there were opportunities to go to even more sessions.

This was a smaller conference with mostly senior level attendees. I really like these types of conferences because you have direct access to a lot of thought leaders and quite a few opportunities to chat with them.

Here’s a re-cap of some of the conference highlights along with links to additional resources.


Conference Overview

You may want to start by familiarizing yourself with the conference if you didn’t attend.


Conference Themes

Every conference seems to have a few themes that thread through the sessions, keynotes, and hallway discussions. Here are a few themes I observed:

Simplifying Complexity

There’s no doubt that the world of customer relationship management (CRM) is getting more complex.

One session I attended shared an impressive success story that came from simplifying complexity for both customers and agents.

The session was delivered by Eric McKirdy, Global Customer Care Manager at McKirdy and his team were able to reduce support ticket volume by 60 percent by presenting customers with a cleaner self-service interface:

Powered by Parature, their customer service software also gave agents a unified view of all the channels they were supporting so they only had to monitor one queue. 

The unified queue is likely to be an important trend in the near future. According to ICMI, the average contact center agent uses five software programs to serve customers. This set up encourages unhealthy multitasking that can easily lead to service failures.

Focusing agents on just one queue allows them to focus more of their attention on solving issues for their customers.


New Approaches to Analytics

Customer service analytics and big data were hot topics, though there wasn’t a lot of agreement on best practices. (Maybe that's a good thing?)

I attended two analyst panels where the panelists seemed downright angry about metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES). The main contention was these measures are frequently used incorrectly and there’s little value in them anyway.

Unfortunately, the analysts were short on clear opinions about what companies should be doing instead.

One session on analytics that was impressive was presented by Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc, Inc. Ramirez showed us how banks and other financial institutions are able to use social media complaints to predict complaints filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

Ramirez believes this concept can be applied in other industries too.

For example, let’s say a company launches a new product. Analyzing the volume and content of social media mentions about that product might alert the company to a potential defect before large numbers of consumers actually contact the company or return the product to the store.

The company can proactively respond to the problem by fixing the defect, bolstering customer service staff to handle increased volume, and re-engaging affected customers.

It’s definitely a concept worth investigating, especially for companies that typically receive a lot of social media mentions already.


What the Heck is Customer Engagement?

Customer engagement was a hot topic at the conference.

Stick the word “engagement” on the end of anything and it seems like people will all nod their head in agreement. Employee engagement, brand engagement, customer engagement, you name it. We need it and the analysts all agree its a good thing.

But what the heck is it? This is where there was little clarity.

Perhaps most telling was when a panel of CRM executives were asked to define the term. Four out of five either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Only George Wright, Senior VP and General Manager at offered a clear, concise definition. 

Engagement is a positive, long-term relationship between a company and a customer.

Do you agree with this definition?

Whether or not you do, it seems clear that we can’t really know if customer engagement is important until we’re sure we know what customer engagement really is.

Why We're Addicted to Multitasking

We’re not good at multitasking.

Most of us know this. Our brains are only able to process one conscious thought at a time. Try to do more and speed and quality inevitably suffer.

We continue to multitask despite this knowledge. In a very real sense, we’re addicted.

This post explores the cause of our multitasking addiction. If you can read all the way through without checking your Twitter feed, you’ll see some solutions. You probably won’t like them because it’s going to feel like telling the Cookie Monster that cookies are only a sometimes treat. 

I’m also departing from my usual format and putting all the links at the bottom of the post. It’s my meager attempt to make multitasking slightly less inviting.


Why We’re Addicted

Multitasking is really about attention. 

We are easily able to focus our attention when we’re doing just one thing. Trying to do more than one thing requires us to focus and re-focus attention.

The part of our brain responsible for focusing attention is called the Reticular Activating System or RAS. It sorts through a deluge of internal thoughts and external signals to decide where our conscious brain should tune in.

Unfortunately, the RAS has an achilles heel: novelty.

Novelty’s ability to instantly capture our attention used to be a big advantage when we lived simpler lives. One of your ancestors might have been foraging for berries in the woods, humming a merry tune, when they suddenly spotted a bear. You’re here today because the novelty of seeing a bear grabbed their attention away from the delightful bliss of berries and tunes. 

Today’s world is an overload of novelty. 

Our phones and computer screens are a constant barrage of buzzes, beeps, and flashes. We have two monitors with multiple software programs running at once. Co-workers constantly interrupt us in our open plan office spaces. 

It doesn’t stop when we get home. We have television, DVR, Netflix, and video games. Our friends are only a text, Facebook message, or FaceTime session away. 

The rational argument for multitasking is managing multiple priorities. That might hold some weight if we were actually working on something useful. We’re not. Our RAS doesn’t make decisions about where to focus attention based on an activity’s relative usefulness. It’s a sucker for anything novel.

Finding something novel triggers a release of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine feels good. In his book, Your Brain at Work, David Rock calls this the “toward” response. It tells us that whatever we’re doing, we should do more of it.

And we do.


How We Become Multitasking Junkies

Chronic multitasking causes a few problems that heighten the addiction.

One issue is our dopamine receptors become dulled from overuse. That means we have to multitask more to get the same effect. Checking Facebook ten times a day isn’t quite doing it, so you might have to up it to twenty. 

Another problem caused by chronic multitasking is it lessens our ability to filter useful information from meaningless junk. A high priority project receives exactly the same attention as our latest status update. The end result is multitasking for the sake of multitasking.

While reading this post, how many times have you been tempted to stop and check something else? 

Email, IM, Facebook, Twitter, text, Pintrest, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, your stock portfolio, Candy Crush, whatever. There’s no real purpose to it, just the irresistible urge to multitask.

It gets worse.

Chronic multitasking can lead to something called Directed Attention Fatigue or DAF. Here are just a few of the common symptoms:

  • Distractibility
  • Irritability
  • Impatience
  • Indecisiveness
  • Difficulty starting and finishing tasks

This doesn’t bode well for any job that requires any concentration. It’s why we feel mentally exhausted at the end of a work day that was mostly spent sitting in a chair. 

Strangely, we feel physically exhausted too. That’s because all that concentration actually requires a lot of physical energy. 

And, because multitasking is really a less efficient way to work, we end the day with more work to get done. Our brilliant solution is often to work more hours and do more multitasking.

Psychologists have compared DAF to ADD. Different conditions, same impact. Our smart phones and multi-monitor set ups are basically giving us ADD.



Quitting the Multitasking Habit

If you’re addicted to multitasking, you’re not going to like this part. 

Quitting isn’t easy.

Perhaps you’ve been telling yourself you can quit when you want to, but you just don’t want to. Sure, you’d know you’ve hit rock bottom if you fall into a fountain at the mall while texting, but you haven’t done that yet. Not like that lady on TV. 

There are some solutions. You need to be committed to make them work. It’s going to be difficult at first, but gradually you’ll feel better.

One solution is to change the way you design your workspace. Go minimalist. Cut out distractions like a second monitor. Clear off your desk to create a more calming environment. 

The next step is changing your work habits. 

Give yourself permission to focus on one task at a time. Keep other computer programs closed when they’re not in use. Check email and then close email. Check Facebook and then close Facebook. Concentrate on creating that PowerPoint deck and then move on to something else.

This works even if it’s only for a short duration. I will frequently set the timer on my smart phone for 13 minutes and tell myself to focus on a single task during that time. Something amazing often happens. By the end of the 13 minutes, I’m fully absorbed and want to keep going without interruption. 

No problem. Just hit the timer again for another go. Pretty soon I’m crushing tasks by giving one thing at a time my full attention.

The final solution is perhaps most important. You need to give your brain a break. 

Shut everything down. Take a walk to get some fresh air. Researchers have found that being outside in nature works wonders at counteracting the effects of Directed Attention Fatigue. 

Your brain will feel better after getting some rest. It will be more alert and focused. The great part about that is you can get more done while your co-workers continue to spin around on the hamster wheel called multitasking.

The big question is can you kick the habit? 


Helpful Links

Here’s a collection of links to help you expand your knowledge of multitasking and its addictive qualities. Some are useful and others are just for fun.