We can do our staff a big favor when we offer choices instead of issuing a mandate.

When I do the first step in my Power Series with a contractor, I always start with Planning Power! because this step allows me to learn how a company works (or doesn’t) from a 360-degree business perspective.

There are so many areas to look at, but one area that usually tells me a lot about a company is what process they follow from the time a call comes in until the time the call is dispatched.

One shop I visited awhile back had a tiny office space with hard walls and people crammed in so tight they looked like sardines in a can.

The noise was deafening.

I observed the customer service representatives who answered the phones constantly ask the callers to repeat themselves. All of which was frustrating to the CSRs, and I’m sure incredibly frustrating to the callers. I also saw that those answering the calls were writing the messages by hand, which is peculiar in this day and age of computer software.

I asked the owner and office manager why they hadn’t invested in software to book the call. They took me to a computer and showed me that indeed they did have software that was fully capable of booking and dispatching calls. CSRs actually did input the information into the software, but only after they had handwritten the messages and gotten off the phone.

I then asked them why they didn’t use it while they’re still on the phone. They said in unison, “We don’t have the time to enter the data while the caller is on the phone.”

I laughed and said, “Well, if you don’t have the time to enter the information correctly into the software while the customer is on the phone when do you think you’ll find the time to enter the information correctly?”

They stared at one another and shrugged, “We don’t know, but when we do get around to entering it we make a lot of mistakes.”

Reason Behind Results

The reason I shared with them that the CSRs didn’t input the information while on the call is they didn’t wear headsets when answering the phone, and they don’t have the software up and ready before they pick up the call.

I could only find the problem because I was there on-site. I could see it for myself, and I wasn’t attached to doing things the same way they’d always been done.

My now eager audience of owner and office manager hung on my next words, “When your CSRs have headsets on, they can hear the customers better so they don’t have to waste time asking customers to repeat themselves. They don’t hear as much of the background noise when they wear headsets, and the customers hear them better because the microphone is directly in front of the CSRs’ mouths.

“And when they have the software up and running before they answer the phones while wearing headsets, their hands are now free to enter the calls while they’re still on the phone.

“They’ll never have the time to enter the calls if they waste time writing it by hand and hope to have more time later to enter it. When they cradle the phone between their shoulders and ears, they’re making it tough if not impossible to easily enter data.”

I left and a week later we had a remote phone session. The office manager said, “I loved the idea about the headsets so much that I removed all the handsets from every phone and bought everyone the headset I want them to wear. The problem is I have a full-blown revolt on my hands. Why?”


My reply: “All of us are still kids. It doesn’t matter how old we get to be. When you change something on us and don’t tell us why you did it or, better yet, give us a ‘What’s in it for me?’ reason, I’m going to resist.”

Here’s the example I like to use: Imagine telling your young child he must eat an apple a day. Am I right that you might get some pushback?

Now imagine telling him he needs to eat a piece of fruit a day. You don’t care whether it’s a banana, pear or apple. Furthermore, you tell him the choice is up to him and he’ll have more energy to do all the things he loves to do.

Think that’ll go over better? You bet. That’s because we all want choice. As owners and managers, we do ourselves and our staff a big favor when we offer choices instead of issuing a mandate. That doesn’t mean we can’t limit the choices to two or three.

The office manager replied, “OK, I get it. But what do I do now about the headphones?”

I continued: “The first thing we as a parent or as a manager must do when we’ve made a mistake is ‘Fall on our sword.’ And what I mean by that is we must admit we made a mistake. And then we need to tell them what we’re going to do to fix the situation. 

“We don’t have to be infallible. If anything, they’ll appreciate it when we can admit we’re not perfect.

“So for your headset revolt, you need to say you made a mistake by not letting them know why they need to wear headsets. And go on and explain that when they have trouble hearing the customer, they have to ask the customers to repeat themselves a lot and that frustrates the callers. Cradling the phone and writing at the same time doesn’t help the matter. And while they can hope to get some time to enter the information correctly before the next call comes in, they know that doesn’t happen much. To fix that, they need to be wearing headsets and have the software up and running so they can enter the information and verify it while they’re on the call.”

I told him what else he’d have to say: “That said, it’s unfair of me to choose what headset you each have to wear. So, I’m going to select someone to come with me and we’re going to pick out two or three types to try. We’ll test them out for a week and whichever one you each like best, that’s the one you’ll wear. But, you need to know that 30 days from now, no one will pick up a phone without a headset on and your fingers at the keyboard ready to enter the information.”

In our follow-up call two weeks later, the office manager was anxious to share the good news about how the whole team was now answering the phone the right way and the mistakes in booking and dispatching calls had fallen off dramatically.

How many times are you forcing your staff to “eat an apple” when you could more easily get their buy-in by just having them “eat a piece of fruit”?