Why your customers often see what you don't

The classic nine dot puzzle is one of my favorite customer service training exercises. Give the puzzle a try if you haven’t seen it before:

  • Connect all nine dots using four straight lines
  • You cannot lift your finger off the screen (or, if you prefer, your pen off the paper)

Why is the puzzle so hard for most of us to solve?

The secret is our instincts affect how we view potential solutions. Most of us see a box that doesn’t exist. As a result, we try to solve the puzzle by staying within the box. (See the bottom of the post for the solution.)

It’s a useful training exercise because it helps customer service professionals realize that we tend to see the service we provide through a certain frame. The trouble is customers view our service through their own frame and their frame is frequently different than ours.

Last week, I wrote about an experience where two employees took very different approaches to replacing a disappointing bottle of wine. The two employees each had their own way of framing the problem. The first employee looked at the problem as a bottle of wine that needed to be exchanged. The second employee looked at the problem as a customer who was disappointed with their product.

As you can imagine, I was much happier with the service I received from the second employee since her frame was the same as mine.

Adopting the customer’s perspective is not always easy. It sounds great in theory, but it is much more difficult in practice. Chalk this up to the Dunning Kruger Effect, a phenomenon I recently wrote about by comparing customer service to professional baseball.

There are a few ways you can help your employees change their frame and see things from the customer’s point of view:

  • Create a Customer Service Vision that defines outstanding service
  • Have your employees use your product or service and evaluate their experience as a customer.
  • Review customer feedback to understand what drives satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

Are you still trying to solve the puzzle? You can view this short video to see the answer.

How customer service is like professional baseball

Baseball’s spring training is now underway so I thought I’d offer a simple analogy to describe how customer service is like professional baseball:

Many of us think we’re experts, but only a few of us truly are.

Both baseball and customer service are easy to understand at a fundamental level. Even the most casual baseball fan knows that it’s a good thing when your team scores a run, three strikes and you’re out, and the seventh inning stretch is when we all stand up and sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Customer service basics such as prompt, friendly, and attentive service are also universally known.

The trouble with having a little knowledge is it tends to make us susceptible to believing we have a lot of knowledge.

Sometimes referred to as the Dunning Kruger Effect, researchers have consistently found that the less knowledge or skill we have in a particular area, the more we overestimate our ability. This has proven true in arenas as diverse as grammar skills, humor, or multitasking.

You see this happening all the time with baseball fans. Go to a game and you'll hear no shortage of opinions about what’s wrong with the hometown team and what should be done to fix them. Yet none of these rabid fans get so much as an interview when their team is hiring a new coach.

The same holds true in customer service. Everyone has an opinion about what it takes to provide amazing customer service but we’d see more great examples and fewer service failures if customer service really was simple. 

In reality, customer service, like professional baseball, is hard. Very hard. We have to deal with faulty products, dumb policies, crabby co-workers, and domineering bosses. If we’re lucky enough to work at a company that is largely free of these problems, we still have to contend with a wide range of customer expectations and needs. I'm not saying it can't be done, but I am saying it's not always easy.

There’s one more part of the Dunning Krueger Effect that is as true in customer service as it is in baseball. 

While nearly all of us overestimate our ability, the very best underestimate their ability. They never stop trying to improve. They worry that the competition has somehow figured out how to do it better. For them, good enough never is.

I hope this is the reason why I work hard every day to provide my clients with the best possible service.

Unfortunately, I also know this means that I really don't know what I'm talking about whenever I get a brilliant idea about how the Padres can win more games.