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You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Imagine this scenario:  you run a business with several branches across two states.  You have customer service people in each branch and technicians out in the field.  To take advantage of new technology, you are giving your technicians iPads so they can immediately update customer information.  This will reduce the workload for your customer service employees at each branch.  You want to retain these employees (many of whom have been with your company for years) and you see the opportunity for them to spend more time connecting with and assisting customers, generating more sales for your company.

You think your customer service is pretty good already; you’d just like your team to be more proactive in identifying customer needs and offering additional services.  You decide rather than just telling your people to start doing this, you’ll show them by listening to their calls with them and coaching them one-on-one.  You even bring in a coach from the outside you know your people like.  You imagine the coach reviewing a call and saying things like: “When the customer asked about X, you could have told her about all the options we have.”    Or “Here’s a time when you could have offered our new online bill pay program.”  Your goal is to help them transition into a more sales-oriented role from a straight problem solving role.  And ultimately – help them keep their jobs.

Sounds great, right?  This is the exact project I was lucky enough to get to develop and work on with one of my clients.  We were so excited to start our sales and service road show – traveling to each region to train and coach!   But when we started listening to the calls, we were shocked.    Not only were some employees actually rude, there were several who didn’t even have a good understanding of the services offered!  And trust me, this is a company that does regular training and takes customer feedback very seriously.   Several of these employees had been answering the phone for years!

What’s going on in your life or at your work that you don’t know about?  Let me give you some examples:  Is your health really as good as you think it is?  Are your relationships as sound?  Is your job as safe as you think it is?  Are you as competitive as you think you are?  Is your retirement/wealth/computer/home as secure as you believe it to be?  Are you strolling around completely oblivious to the very thing that could be your undoing?

Here are some ideas to help:

Ignorance is not bliss, it is ignorance.   (Just like orange isn’t black and forty ain’t thirty.)  Sure you can avoid really looking at the facts.  I know people who won’t get on the scale or don’t look at their account statements or are afraid if they get tested for something they will find out they actually have it.  But this only makes the problem worse.  You need to have ways to check on and measure what’s important to you.  And they should probably be objective – asking your beloved if your jeans make you look fat is not a good measure of your physical condition.

Measure the right things.  Just because your customers aren’t complaining, doesn’t mean they’re happy.  Do an objective (maybe even use someone from the outside) survey and find out about their levels of satisfaction.    You really need objective data gathered over a period of time to help you make good decisions.  We didn’t just listen to one call from each employee – we listened to several over a period of days.  Also I didn’t know any of the employees, so my assessments weren’t impacted by how I felt about the person.  You would be surprised how hard it is to remain objective about an employee if you don’t like them for some reason.   I often find during these projects that the employees who are the most popular aren’t always the best at their jobs.  And sometimes the employees who are not universally beloved are doing great work.  Elon Musk needs to step it up with AI and get us humans with our petty emotions out of most decision making!   Until then, recognize that you are indeed biased.

Be open to the results.  I have been continually amazed at how open my clients have been to my suggestions on this project.  They don’t get defensive, although sometimes I’m questioning their very business structure!    It’s hard to hear that we have indeed gained 20 lbs. or that our front line people are not as good as we thought they were, or that our employees/spouse/kids aren’t really feelin’ the love.   But if we don’t hear, we can’t get better.

Don’t just hear the results, ACT on them!  After we heard the calls, we changed our plan.  We went back to basics and revisited excellent customer service.  I can’t tell you the power of having employees listen to their own calls.  They can sit in training and think “I do that.”  But when their calls are played and they can hear what they REALLY do, the light bulb goes off.    Think about it – they don’t know what they didn’t know either!  They didn’t go into work planning to be rude – they truly didn’t realize how they sounded.  They thought they were putting people on hold the correct way (asking the caller if they would hold and waiting for the response before just dumping them on hold), but when they heard what they were actually doing – they knew they had to change.  Almost every one of the 100+ people I coached was very open to the coaching.  They were very nervous going in, but after each session, most felt more excited about their jobs and empowered to handle the change.  I find that most of us want to improve; often we just don’t know how to do so.

Consider the cost of continuing to not know.  If we hadn’t started this project, my clients wouldn’t know how much business they were losing due to some of their frontline people’s rudeness and lack of knowledge.  They also didn’t know who all their real high performers were.  Now they can make sure they keep them.   But think of your life – what if you continue to not know about your health or your relationships or your job?  Do you really want to lose any of them?

Pick a place to start.  Don’t panic – there are lots of areas in our lives/work we might be ignorant about and need to be enlightened on.  I’m going to suggest you pick one – maybe the one that would hurt you the most if negatively impacted.   Maybe it’s your job – you really need the income, you like your job, etc.  You can stay in your bubble of ignorance, assuming you are a well-loved rock star or you can go to your boss and say “I really love my job and I’d appreciate any feedback you have on how I can perform even better.”  (Do this in a way that gives them time to think so they can give you a considered response.)  Is this scary?  Yep.  You might hear something you don’t want to.  But if you know how you can improve, you can do it!  You can control your destiny!  You might even get a raise or a promotion!  Or you can just keep on keeping on, and maybe one day be surprised when you don’t get those things or worse, get let go.

My project isn’t quite completed yet, but so far our results are fantastic!  We’ve done follow-up with a few of our toughest cases and have been amazed at their improvement.  We had one person quit, saying sales was not for her, she preferred paperwork – and we’re completely okay with this.  The last thing we want is an unhappy employee on the frontline.   My coaching also wasn’t just one way – I received many ideas for improving operations.  Several of which have already been implemented.  The project has been more successful than we ever imagined.

Staying in the dark is never the answer.  Turn on the lights!  Fire up those flames of knowledge and enthusiasm!

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Cheryl Raven
5 years ago

I think I know this company!