Keeping a Finger on the Pulse

Photo Credit: Russ Hendricks from

This article was originally published on the FCR blog on January 18, 2018. Click here to read the original post.

Over the past few years we’ve done a few rounds of sports with our kids and had very mixed results. This year we’ve ventured into the world of Cub Scouts with the two older ones and so far it’s been a hit. Scouts offers great opportunities to be active doing a variety of engaging projects while learning the value of collaborating with others.

A big event in the life of a scout is the Pinewood Derby where they take an ordinary block of wood and fashion it into a hot rod. This past week our leader sent out a request to parents to purchase and prep materials for the kids to make a stand to display their cars. Having been known to dabble in projects involving wood, I volunteered. She sent me an article with the plans on how to build them and said we’d need enough materials for twelve kids.

Wanting to fit this project into an hour, I aimed to do as much of the prep work as possible ahead of time. Using my superior math skills I actually got just enough wood with a little to spare. I cut 12 bases, 12 back supports, and 48 shelves for the cars to rest on using my trusty miter saw. I then sanded all of the edges to avoid splinters. Finally, setting my work apart from all of the rest, I pre-drilled the holes in the back supports figuring this would help the kids space the shelves properly, keep them straight, and prevent the frustration of bent nails. My last step was to build a model so the kids could see what the finished product looked like. My standard operating procedure (SOP) as we call it at work, appeared flawless.

When it came time to do the project with the kids, my plan worked perfectly. They were able to line up the shelves on the back support and hammer in the nails without too much of a problem. I was grateful for the parents who helped guide the kids.

Then came the time to attach the back support to the base so it would stand up. I opted to use wood screws instead of nails. Having pre-drilled the holes and tested this, I was confident they would screw in without a problem. As the kids, aided by parents started screwing them in, either with screwdrivers or power drills, I began hearing reports of the wood splitting. How could this be? I tested my process and it worked perfectly for me.

My first inclination was to blame the parents followed by those using the power drill versus the screwdriver. But the problem continued to happen regardless of the tools that were used. As I racked my brain, I realized that on my demo model, I had used a slightly bigger drill bit which was the right size for the screw holes but too big for the nail holes. I then switched to a smaller drill bit that was perfect for the nails but not the screws. There was a flaw in my SOP!

How do you learn about flaws in the process?

Businesses and their ability to get stuff done depend on processes. In customer service, we’re so often there at the point where the process doesn’t work — and in many companies we’re a semi-permanent stopgap for those issues. That’s not necessarily good or bad. It is, however critically important for any healthy organization to understand what these flaws are and the cost of supporting customers and replacing those lost as a result.

In my example above, I had twelve customers. As a business scales, it becomes all the more difficult to keep your finger on the pulse of the customer. But this understanding must be gained no less. Here are some ways to stay aware of the pain points your customers are experiencing:

  • Regularly survey customers after interactions (NPS, CSAT, CES, etc) and pay close attention to areas where the process isn’t working.
  • Religiously categorize cases in your CRM or ticketing system so you can later look at the most common issue types and understand what’s driving them.
  • Remain engaged on the front lines — always — regardless of your role. Whether it’s taking calls or shadowing the folks that do, it helps to feel the pain from your customers and front line staff when things aren’t working.
  • Close the loop when a customer submits a negative review or survey. Take the time to call or email them and understand what’s going on.
  • Always keep the door open for your frontline team. They should have a clear pipeline for bubbling up issues and concerns that arise and this feedback MUST be encouraged no matter how busy we are with other things. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways but Nate Brown, Founder of CX Accelerator suggests purchasing USB webkeys for employees allowing them to press a button that opens a form for them to submit the issue they’ve encountered. It’s a small, visual way to encourage and remind them that their feedback is valued.

It’s critical to approach feedback about processes with humility and an open mind. Flaws in the process can be a hard pill to swallow but when the end result is a better process, product, or experience, it’s totally worth it. I’m coming to realize that businesses both large and small will always have flaws somewhere. It’s whether you’re aware of those flaws and their impact to your customer experience and then what you do to fix them that makes all of the difference.

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  • Your story makes a great case for watching customers use your product.

    I’ve heard a similar story many times in retail. The corporate office will send out instructions for creating a display. The instructions are based on they steps they followed in a conference room without having to simultaneously help customers or navigate around the compact space of a retail selling floor. Needless to say, it often takes longer and more effort than planned.

    • Thanks Jeff. That’s a great story! There really is so much insight to be gained but watching your customer follow instructions.

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