When I first began in a role managing customer support at Monk Development, Inc., my goal was to continually acquire means of working faster and with more accuracy to serve an increasing volume of customers. With the phrase, "work smart, not hard" routinely repeating in my mind, every time a support case came in, I'd ask, "How can another person with this same question get what they need and be on their way much faster?" To my surprise, following that path was only fruitful ever so often. Soon I realized that efficiency with a support ticket isn't the only thing customers appreciate.
"Work smart – not hard."
Most of us are somewhat regrettably familiar with the idea of "working smart and not hard". Even if it feels like a nagging voice in our work, we still can't help but pursue our own interpretation of it almost every day. But what is the phrase really supposed to mean? And when we follow it, are we doing a good thing for the customer?
When I stepped back to rethink my process, I ended up redefining my take on the mantra. The result had a lasting impact on the way our team handles customer support today.
Hard vs. smart
Let's have a moment of honesty about our definitions of "hard" work and "smart" work. By "hard", we probably mean something that is unnecessary—"busy work" which should have never been had we gone about the task the "right way." By "smart" we probably mean efficiency, straight up. This usually involves a tool or process that multiplies productivity. Why drive yourself to work every day if you and your coworkers can carpool? Why carry thirty pounds of books in your bag, when you can easily wheel them in a cart up to your office? Working smart and not hard then is a practice that sounds great in theory, because of the imagined savings in time and resources.
However, when it comes to customer experience, are we sure the presumed benefits of the newest tool or methodology won't translate to added costs elsewhere? It's how we answer this added question that will determine whether we're truly satisfying customers or just spinning everyone's wheels. Even when we believe more efficiency could save us, we should first start out by meeting the hard work at its rightful place in our workflow.
Admittedly, our generation has a kind of allergy to the stuff some would consider hard. There's just a lower kind of threshold something can reach before we might hear, "This is getting hard—I must be doing it wrong." With ultimate convenience such an integral part of our cultural philosophy, who today can remember that great things come from real labor that is at times extremely uncomfortable?
I'm not saying that our work should never get faster and easier with experience. Rather, I just want to avoid starting anything with the question, "How can this be streamlined for our team?" and instead start out with, "How can this be made easy for the client?" To serve customers in a powerful way, sometimes some butts just need to be busted. And for a little while, our jobs can seem ridiculously hard. But when you're on the right track, it's only a matter of time before the hard work pays off profusely.
The mental subroutine created by wanting to work smarter repeatedly asks us why we're doing what we're doing. It's a good thing, but it can be great when we feed only the best information into it. When we're first willing to sacrifice our time, energy and comfort to see a task to completion "the hard way", we can better respond to the "work smarter" questions, equipped with both the experience of that difficult project well handled, and a new understanding of where the solution belongs in the bigger picture of whole-company customer experience management.
Do good for the customers first
If you discover a problem at work, resist the urge to rush off and notify your team, rewrite all your documentation and generally get caught up in the fix. Do good for the customers first, then draw up those improvements from your experiences when the conversation wraps up. With this in practice, we see more clearly the most appropriate times to put a new system, a new policy, a new automation—any new change in place.
I've heard it said once, "The best customer support is no customer support." I'm not sure I agree. Our products and services should surely be consistent and user-friendly, but clients aren't just looking to have zero problems to report. They're looking to grow and to be made better by your company's expertise. Do the hard work to empower them first, and then support them next with awesome processes, tools and education.
Remember a time when things were easy just before they got easier? I don't either. Greater things come out of the hard work getting done first.
This post also appears on Chase Clemons' SupportOps.co.
Updated May 22, 2020.