Burning Bridges

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This post was originally published on the FCR blog on September 20, 2016. Click here to read the original article.

Bring up the topic of burning bridges and a barrage of thoughts come to mind. I think of bridges I’ve burned that I wish I hadn’t. I think of bridges I should have burned but didn’t. I think of instances where I’ve tried to be the bridge. I think of regret and second guessing and most certainly the pain. I’m reminded of the times I did it right and the times I did it wrong.

Customer service has taught me a lot about burning bridges. There are times I’ve spoken with customers where the bridge was definitely on fire. In those moments, it’s tempting to just finish the job. What is it about this job where we are wired to restore? We work and work to fix the problem, restore trust, restore the customer. I guess there is the fact that if we burn enough customer bridges our employers will eventually burn the bridge with us.

Management has taught me a lot about burning bridges too. Some employees just get it. Others have limitless potential but require a significant investment of time and energy. Still others have seemingly insurmountable obstacles— pressures from the outside that are stacked against them. It’s tricky amid frustration over something they maybe didn’t do right to assume positive intent and keep the connection strong. There’s also the part where we put forth our effort, resources, and money to find the person and build that bridge in the first place.

Family and friends have taught me a lot about burning bridges as well. I’ve done life with these people. I’ve loved and been loved. Invested blood, sweat, and tears. I’ve spent time as the burner, the burned, and the bridge. Regardless of the role, it’s not easy. There are no quick fixes or easy answers. Sometimes we have to scratch and claw to maintain the bridge. Other times  we have to let it burn and hope to rebuild.

When I think about these bridges, more questions than answers come to mind.

  • Is it worth it to burn this bridge? There are no guarantees we’ll ever be able to rebuild it.
  • Should we always consult an unbiased third party before burning a bridge? You know— the whole one to say yes, two to say no thing.
  • Are there opportunities where I can be the bridge? You might argue, that’s a whole lot of what customer service is.
  • Are there bridges I’m maintaining that I probably shouldn’t? Sometimes this takes courage.
  • Are there bridges I thought were burned but they weren’t fully destroyed. After the fire has burned out, is there a chance to restore and rebuild?

I don’t like burning bridges, almost to a fault. There are most certainly people who are better and worse at it than me. We owe it to the other to do our darndest to keep the bridge strong— to fight to build and rebuild. Even then, it still might fail. Regardless of what happens, never take burned bridges lightly and never miss out on the opportunity to learn.

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Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Experience at FCR, the premiere provider of outsourced call center and business process solutions. He has more than 17 years of experience as a customer service and experience professional. He is co-founder of the Customer Service Life blog and a regular contributor. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.

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