Kindness Transcends Constraints

You can’t have everything: Where would you put it?” – Steven Wright. We truly can’t have it all: There are always choices to be made and trade-offs to be considered. This is rarely more obvious than in the area of choosing a service provider for our business needs. It is nearly always that case that we must choose TWO of the following THREE options: Good, Cheap and Fast.

It is difficult to rise above the reality of this constraint: We will rarely receive all three. To illustrate the principle, let’s consider your choices for a workday lunch:

  1. If you prefer “Good” and “Fast”, you’ll be quite happy with the Salad Bar at a place like Whole Foods Market. The food is of extraordinary quality and one can get in, load up and get out in a minute or two. That said, anyone who has experienced “Salad Scale Sticker Shock” knows that this option is decidedly NOT cheap.
  2. If you prefer “Fast” and “Cheap”, well that’s easy – just hit the drive-thru for a burger and fries. For a few bucks, you’ll have your paper sack in your lap in minutes – But those hamburger buns are not exactly Whole Grain, are they?
  3. So, then, what if you prefer “Good” and “Cheap”? Well, you’re going to have to spend some time to get THAT done. You’ll have to shop carefully for quality ingredients – when they go on sale – at the grocery store, and then you’ll have take the time to pack a sack lunch for yourself.

And so you see, you get TWO, not THREE. Now let me extend the analogy to customer service organizations. At your contact center, what type of service are you aiming to offer? Typically, the goal is to reduce “average handle time” (AHT), right? That’s “FAST”. OK, you’ve picked one. Next, most centers are also looking to reduce “cost per contact”, right? That’s “CHEAP”. OK, there’s your two. But WAIT: Many centers are also measuring “customer satisfaction” (CSAT). That just may be a quality metric? Is that “GOOD” too?

So how CAN you have all three? Are you ready for my “constraint-buster”?. Here is the secret weapon: KINDNESS

Even if your contact center is required to optimize for “FAST” and “CHEAP”, you can still add goodness by insisting on kindness. Kindness costs you NOTHING and buys you EVERYTHING! So the next time you hire a Customer Service Representative, make sure they are inclined toward kindness. And the next time you train your existing team, emphasize the power of kindness. A kind word doesn’t take longer than a rude word nor does it cost more. Kindness simply adds goodness to an experience that cries out for more of it.

13 Responses to “Kindness Transcends Constraints”

  1. Melissa Kovacevic August 30, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Hi Tristan, Thanks for making these great points. I agree with you 100%. I find a lot of clients still focused on handling time and pushing reps to get off calls so quickly that needs are often clear and problem solving is generic and causing call backs.

    • Thank you, Melissa. It is often true that we get what we measure. If we are optimizing toward (and rewarding based on) a certain metric result, we train behavior that direction. As a customer, I would rather be kindly redirected to a web portal, than unkindly hold hostage on hold.

  2. Tristan,
    This all reminds me of my first job out of school and my boss pretty quoted that sign verbatim. I was doing insurance sales, and while customer service was not front and center in my daily activities, it was a important factor to my sales activities (and whether I actually got the sale!). We weren’t fast, but we were “affordable” and it was a “good” insurance product that I was selling. So it comes down to expectation of the customers and in my experiences, each industry/company will have customers with different expectations. In my example, my customers were not so concerned about “fast”. I like your secret weapon called “kindness” because regardless of customer expectation, “kindness” can help break down those fast-cheap-good walls in favor of a positive customer experience.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • Most welcome, Brian. Thank you for sharing your anecdote: I enjoyed it. I’m a fan of what you are doing at RiverStar and I’m glad to be connected to you and your team!

  3. Tristan,
    You said it all with this creative (and fun) analogy to the dining out experience. KINDNESS in customer service delivers the quality even when leadership is focusing on the the “cheap” and “fast”.

    Bravo to your commitment to the true meaning of customer service. It is a passion we both share. Here’s one of my posts that connects well to this topic of kindness:
    Empathy in Customer Service — Lose Your Fear!

    I will RT your post on Twitter. It is unique, insightful, and a great reminder for all. Thanks for sharing it.
    Kate Nasser

  4. Great post. I still think you really have to pick two… I agree you can achieve a greater balance and push the needle on all three factors with some good old humanity. I’d say it’s about passion as much as kindness. If you approach any situation with a kind disposition and a passion to resolve problems (not people) you can move worlds. Passion and kindness are a kind of leverage in human interaction (read: respect) and respect will take you further in your life because it forms the keystone of your relationships. Your relationships, whether to a long time friend or a customer on the phone you talk with (not to) for two minutes are what make a difference. (to you and the world, give the world your gifts!) The problem we face so often is we don’t treat CS teams with respect, we don’t teach them and empower them to treat the customer with respect. To hurt this further, CS is usually a cost center and this means relentless cost cutting. It costs ten times to get a new customer than it does to keep an old yet we spend 1/100th of the money on CS compared to marketing or sales (getting new customers). This imbalance makes it hard to have anything other than drones manning your phones, the passionate people just go elsewhere, where they can make a difference. In these departments Good is tossed out the window (or paid lip service) for Fast and Cheap (and really Fast = Cheap). Some folks rise above this and shine anyway but most don’t and this hurts the bottom line more than spending 2/100ths of the sales+marketing budget on the CS team would in the long view. My 2 cents.

    • That wasn’t two CENTS, that was about two billion CENTS. It makes that MUCH sense! Thank you for weighing in Ryan. You’re right on the money. We do a cross-industry Twitter chat on Tuesday’s at 9:00 PM (on the #custserv hashtag) that explores and champions the exact changes you’re proposing. You would be a worthy and welcome addition. Thank you AGAIN!

  5. Hello Tristan,

    This is an example for real kindness:).

    Kindness is a key not only for customers services, I think is a key for evolution.
    I will read more from your blog. I see many valuable subjects.

    All the best, Simona


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