Why Obvious Solutions Sometimes Aren't So Obvious

The contact center had trouble with associates who were rude and abrupt with customers. The director tried training, team meetings, and even the threat of disciplinary action. 

Nothing worked.

The company hired me to help them fix the problem. It took me just five minutes. It's not because I'm a wizard. (Or, am I?) It's because I was able to see the problem from a fresh perspective.

The problem stemmed from hold times that stretched as long as 30 minutes in the morning. Contact center associates got stressed out when they knew people were waiting. They anticipated that those customers would be angry at them when they finally got on the phone. This caused them to come across as abrupt as they tried to hustle through each call.

The solution was also simple. A minor adjustment to the contact center's schedule put more associates on the phone during busy times and gave them less coverage when they didn't need it.

How could they miss such an obvious solution? Sometimes, what's obvious isn't so obvious. Here are some reasons why that happens:

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Inattentional Blindness

This is a phenomenon that occurs when you focus so much on one thing, that something else becomes hidden, even when it would otherwise be obvious. 

The contact center leader was so fixated on her agents being rude to customers that she couldn't see what was causing it. She just wanted them to stop.

You can see examples of inattentional blindness here and here.

 

Framing

We tend to see things from a singular perspective. The challenge is that perspective might not be the complete picture. 

The contact center leader looked at agent rudeness as a behavioral issue. This made it difficult for her to see it was really the symptom of another problem.

You can experience a classic example of framing here.

 

Urgency

Speed can be a paradox. Moving faster can create additional problems that take extra time to solve. Sometimes, you have to work slow to go fast. 

The contact center associates came across as rude and abrupt because they were trying to work fast. In many cases, this made calls take even longer and created a self-reinforcing cycle. Longer calls led to longer wait times which led to more stress and then even longer calls.

There are plenty of examples of serving faster by slowing down, such as this contact center that became more efficient when they stopped holding agents accountable for talk time.

 

Solutions

Many customer service problems can be solved by making sure frontline employees are aware of the issue. This short video explains how to do that.

You can also try using this Quick Fix Checklist to help identify some common root causes for customer service problems.

Finally, I highly recommend Edward De Bono's book, Lateral Thinking. It's a creativity manual, but the timeless techniques De Bono describes are perfect for solving customer service problems.

Why customer service isn't always obvious

The video below contains a simple observation exercise. I encourage you to watch the short video before reading the rest of this post (it's less than 90 seconds long). (For my email readers, here's a link.)

Researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons found that only 50% of people notice the gorilla in the video the first time they watch it. Why? A strange phenomenon called inattentional blindness where our focus on one thing causes us to miss something that would otherwise be obvious.

I recently saw an example of this first hand when dining at one of my favorite local restaurants with my wife and her parents. The restaurant was very crowded so the only open table was tucked into a corner in the back of the restaurant. Unfortunately, we hardly saw our server after she took our orders. Our water glasses sat empty, we finished our meals before we had a chance to order a few cocktails, and she took a long time to bring our check. From our perspective, it was obvious that she should have paid more attention to us.

So, what could have gotten in the way? I observed a few things that may have caused her to unintentionally neglect our table.

  • Our table was tucked away behind a wall and out of sight from the rest of her section.
  • A large group was seated in her section just after we arrived and it was quite a production to take their orders, bring them drinks, etc.
  • Our server carried only one plate at a time in each hand, even when picking up dirty dishes, hinting at a lack of experience in restaurant service.

If you imagine we were out of sight on a busy evening with an inexperienced server who was trying to keep all her tables straight, you can understand why we might have been forgotten in the frenzy.

A great question to ask about your own employees is what might be distracting them from seeing obvious customer service opportunities?