Time for Tent Poles

Here’s a case in point. Last Monday I was working with a beloved client who is focused on improving customer service. They’d done research on their company and found their customer service was below the industry average. This is clearly unacceptable. They are putting lots of focus and attention on improving their relationship with their customers. Three task forces were formed and on Monday we were gathering to hear what actions they were recommending to improve how their customers feel about them.

To start the session, we began with the classic tent-pole exercise. They have played this before so the participants were very confident that they would be successful at this. I said that the marketplace had changed so do not be fooled by these tent poles because they were super duper and different than before. I also said I was the customer and what they had to do for me was lower this tent pole to the ground while balancing it on their index finger. They could never lose contact with it. They had three minutes to do this. From my point of view, as the customer, faster was better.

Activity starts, The pole goes up instead of down, fingers lose contact, people yell and blame gets attributed to someone. That is how it typically goes. Then the group calms down and gets focused and some organization occurs. Finally, everyone focuses on getting the task done but no one talks to me, the customer.

As the customer, I am for the most part, left out of the loop. At this point, I am in the corner crying. I am sobbing quietly to myself while sucking my thumb because I, the customer, am being totally ignored. I am the customer after all.

After the stupid game, we talked about good customer service and paying attention to customer needs. During the debriefing, we talked about what happened and how the customer could have been more involved. We also talked about how this mirrors things that are actually happening right now within the organization. There are invariably similarities between what happens during the games and what happens in the business. As a result of playing stupid games, groups suddenly have insights about what’s missing. These are things they couldn’t see before.

I asked, “When you saw that you were going to be late, did you ever tell the customer?”

“No,” they said.

“Does that ever happen back at the office?” I asked. “Does the customer always get notified of late arrivals and deliveries?”

“No,” they said

Now they are starting to get it. There are those kinds of looks—at me and then towards each other. Then I said, “If you can fix that problem here and keep the customer in the loop, our experience is that back at your business you will also find ways to keep your customers better informed.” This is the point of the stupid games and why they work.

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