flowing motion

Noobes shouldn’t be on the front line until they can do it with ‘no hands’

Posted on: April 14, 2010

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

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