How we fell to the level of our system (and recovered)


“We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” ― Archilochus


There's an excellent HBR article that talks about the intense training program the Navy SEALS employ. Their training philosophy is based on Archilochus' insight, "We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training."

I don't think anyone expects businesses like ours or yours to hold a Navy SEALS-level expectation around training. But as an organization that handles almost 7000 customer support requests each year, we've embraced a slightly modified version of this:

"You fall to the level of your systems."

(This is a James Clear modified saying).

How we fell to the level of our systems

Years ago, we used Maximizer (a CRM tool) to track for customer support requests. All 5000 of them by a small team. The process went something like this:

  • A Policy Works user would email or call support;
  • The Support Specialist would respond and answer the question;
  • The Support Specialist would then have to go into Maximizer and log the support ticket by:
    • Finding the company the broker worked at,
    • Finding the broker (user) in the company view,
    • Creating a new entry,
    • Copying the email thread into the CRM, or
    • Typing out the details of the phone call,
    • Completing all of the fields, like 'Reason for call', 'Outcome', etc.
    • The Support Specialist would return to the back-logged queue to find double the requests for help waiting.
The process became too onerous. It was painful. And it made delivering great support more and more challenging.

Worst of all, a good number of the support tickets didn’t get entered in our CRM. If the ticket needed to be followed-up on by another team member down the road, there was often no trace of it. So an investigative process had to be undertaken just to understand what had happened when the customer first called in.

And when managers or team members went to run analytics to see what was happening, they couldn't trust the results. The manually-intensive workflow meant data was only being entered some of the time. Reports couldn't be trusted. The team felt divided and frustrated.

Change the system, change the results

It became apparent that the manual process of managing and tracking support cases was unsustainable. We had aspirations of growth, which meant an increase in support activity. We realized that growth on top of our processes was going to cause chaos. But we didn't want to grow our support team.

So we started searching for a better system and quickly shortlisted the search to Zendesk and UserVoice. We finally settled on Zendesk. And the results were nothing less than extraordinary (this isn't a pitch for Zendesk, but it's a good support and ticketing system if you're in the market for one).

Now, support requests are automatically tracked in the system. Email threads exist, so anyone can quickly get a sense of what has taken place in the process of trying to help the customer. Email macros (templated emails) are used for commonly asked questions, so the wheel of responses is not recreated over and over. Drop down lists of categorizations, etc.

We have a knowledge library that users and staff can use. And if a ticket goes unclosed, the team is notified and the appropriate action is taken; no customer looking for support falls through the cracks.

And everyone, not only managers, can run reports to see how things are going. What tickets are open? Who is responding quickly? Who needs help? When are our busy times?

The ability to run reports is only possible because:

  1. We now have standardized data that is used across all support cases; and
  2. There is a consistent process that everyone on the team follows.
So when support gets crazy busy, and the cognitive load is high, everyone falls only a little to this new system. One that provides a consistency of process with reusable data.

What are your systems?

Or, how far can your teams fall? When life in your office gets busy, what suffers? Here's a way to take a quick inventory: every workflow that involves manually copying & pasting information between systems.

Through a different lens, what are the moments when the cognitive load or situation is so intense that staff get overwhelmed?

Some examples, for commercial staff especially, might include:
  • Flurry of certificate requests;
  • New business submissions or proposals to prepare;
  • Endorsements to process; and
  • Renewals to process.
When you cross manually-heavy systems (copying & pasting) with high volume, repetitive work, there is a higher likelihood of failure, burnout, reduced morale and overall inefficiencies. 

So stand back and have a look at your systems. How far is the fall?

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Topics: Workflow, E&O, Commercial_lines