The Way It’s Always Been Done

Meet Mouse, our corn snake.

I’ve never really considered myself a “reptile person.” On those occasions where I’ve encountered snakes while hiking or working in the yard, I always jump clear out of my shoes in complete fright.

It was Christmas of 2020 when my son made us a reptile family by welcoming a corn snake named “Mouse” into our home. Oh, and her favorite food is mice so it’s a fitting name. She was about a year old and two feet long at the time but has since doubled in size.

She actually has a great temperament, often content to gently wrap herself around a willing arm for an unspecified amount of time. And as far as pets go, a snake is incredibly low maintenance, eating and going to the bathroom about once a week. It’s all still a bit creepy though, but we’re adapting.

When Mouse (The Snake) gets out

We actually adopted Mouse from another family who included a tank in the deal, instructing us to put a brick on top of her tank lid because she likes to escape. “Likes to escape” is a bit of an understatement. The truth is that she tries to escape almost every night and doesn’t require much of an opening to do so.

The first time she got out, we just put the brick in the wrong place and found that she had moved a couple of feet into the neighboring fish tank, enjoying the warm water, and keeping our Betta named “Shrimpy” company.

The second and third times, we actually forgot about the brick and found that she traveled just a few feet from her tank — once hiding in a pillowcase and the other time finding a dark corner under a bed.

Realizing that there had to be a better way, I searched the Internet and quickly found a tank lid that latched securely in place, keeping Mouse out of trouble. I’m proud to say that since that small update, Mouse has not once escaped from her tank. Problem solved.

Why are we doing it this way?

This whole experience got me thinking about my work in customer support and customer experience. In my current role, I occasionally interact with customers, learning about some of our internal processes.

One particular process requires that I first open the customer’s account. Then, to check on a status, I need to copy some information, open a new window, go to a separate interface, paste in that information, and hit “enter.” Actually, I’ve done this process many times and that’s how we’ve always done it.

But recently I thought, why don’t we just add a link from the first system to the second system eliminating the whole need to copy and paste. My team agreed that it would be a welcome improvement and our engineers were quickly able to update our system. And there’s no telling how many clicks and how much time this will end up saving our team as we support our customers.

What can we learn from this?

The reality is that there’s more of this low-hanging fruit in our operation where, if we just think critically about what we’re doing, we can more efficiently do our work and better care for our customers. But how can we cultivate a culture that seeks out such improvements? Here are a handful of ideas to get you started.

  1. Start with the belief that there’s always room for improvement – Working at a software company, it’s so easy to fall into this mindset that everything was built a certain way for a certain reason. The reality is that oftentimes, tools are built a certain way because the designer found the best conceivable way to solve a problem — often with limited time and resources. But as a team, and over time, it should be expected that we’ll improve on that design based on user feedback. This focus on continuous improvement should be engrained in the culture of your company.
  2. Do the work yourself – As a leader, you’re not above or outside of the work other people are doing. I’ve also found that doing a process is one of the best ways to learn about it. In my case, occasionally supporting customers allows me to walk in the shoes of my team. As someone who doesn’t spend all day, every day in our systems, I often come at it with a fresh perspective and can spot ways we can improve. This is also why I love it when we hire new people because we get to see, firsthand, their experiences with our systems.
  3. Observe the work – Take some time to sit with, and observe your agents as they do their work. Ask why they do certain things and note those tasks that are tedious or frustrating. Encourage your supervisors to pay attention to this during routine quality assurance audits as well.
  4. Wholeheartedly welcome feedback and complaints – The last thing you want is for your agents to offer feedback, be ignored, and then give up and accept that “that’s just how things are.” Sadly, this happens more than you realize. Just as you would (or should) with customer feedback, treat feedback from agents as a gift and do your best to listen, respond thoughtfully, and implement the good suggestions. And be sure to celebrate when that feedback is implemented!

Concluding thoughts

I have two more thoughts on this topic as I conclude. First, there are times we have to recognize that resources are limited. In the case of our snake, the brick on top of the tank was a quick fix and worked well enough until we had the time, money, and other resources for a better solution.

Second, in some cases “the way it’s always been done” offers folks a sense of security. Change can be scary, and as creatures of habit, it most certainly can be inconvenient.

We’ve discussed change many times on the daily Customer Experience Question of the Day (#CXQOTD) on Twitter and so often the key to calming these fears comes down to discussing “WIIFM” or “What’s in it for me” with those people directly affected by the change. Hopefully, you’re able to help them see that it’s better for all parties that the snake doesn’t regularly escape the tank.

Do you have any additional tips on spotting those things that we do simply because “that’s how it’s always been done”? And when you change and improve processes, how do you ensure that everyone sees that improvement as a good thing? Share your thoughts in the comment box below and let’s keep this discussion going.

Ssssssssssee you later. (See what I did there?)

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Jeremy Watkin is Director of Customer Experience and Support at NumberBarn. He has more than 19 years of experience as a customer service and contact center professional leading high-performing teams in the contact center. Jeremy has been recognized numerous times as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, product marketing, social media, and more. When not working you can typically find him spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis. Be sure to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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