I worked with a client that was focused on improving its customer service. This company hired a firm to survey its customers. The survey results indicated that the company’s customer service was below average. The company decided to focus on improving its service and its relationships with customers. I was brought in to help the company leadership group develop action plans for improving customer service and customer relationships.
To start the session, the group played one of CMI’s classic games: lower-the-tent-pole-to-the-ground. The participants had played this Stupid Game in the past and were confident they would be successful.
As a precursor to the exercise, I said, “The marketplace has changed, so don’t be fooled by these tent poles. They’re super-duper and way different than before.” After pausing for effect, I added the instructions: “I’m the customer. I want you to lower this tent pole to the ground while balancing it on your index fingers. None of your fingers can ever lose contact with it. All fingers must be under and perpendicular to pole. No other body parts can touch the pole. You have three minutes to do this. The faster you can get the tent pole to the floor the better.”
The activity started. The pole went up instead of down. Fingers lost contact with the pole. People yelled, and blamed each other. (That is how this activity typically goes.) Then the groups calmed down. Everyone focused on completing the task. The participants started listening to each other and eventually lowered that darn pole to the ground. They felt good about it and gave each other high fives. They had collaborated and worked as a team. Good stuff. However, throughout the exercise, no one talked to me, the customer. This was very sad. I, the ignored customer, was sobbing quietly in the corner while sucking my thumb. How did this happen? Why was I so … neglected?
After the game, we discussed the task of lowering the pole and defined good customer service. We agreed that the team worked together. Then we talked about how the neglected customer in this Stupid Game actually mirrored what was happening to customers “back at the ranch.” The group completed the task but they did not make me a raving fan customer. They did not update me or give me attention of any kind. If I used them again I would definitely want to talk about price. I asked the group whether they displayed good customer service during the exercise. The answer: no.
“How could the customer have been more involved in the process?” I asked. “Did you clarify his expectations prior to undertaking the task? Did you ask for any feedback during the task? And after completing the task, did you thank this customer for his business or explore with him what other services he might need?”
The answer to these questions, too, was no.
I asked, “When you saw that you were going to be late, did you tell the customer?”
“No,” they said.
“Does that ever happen at the office?” I asked. “Is the customer always notified of late arrivals and deliveries?”
“No,” they said.
“How does the customer feel about this?” I asked.
“It’s been a complaint,” they admitted, shooting one another looks of realization. Their looks also communicated that they were finding me quite annoying and might want to hurt me.
I said, “Fixing the communication problem and keeping the customer in the loop during this game will help you find ways to keep your customers better informed once you are back at your business.”
Therein, beloved reader lays the method to my madness. There are similarities between what happens during Stupid Games and what happens in the participants’ businesses. Playing Stupid Games provides the group a practice field and allows them to discover obstacles to successful work. They can take what they learn from our discussions back to work and use to implement solutions to problems.