Three tips for getting to the optimal solution

  1. Focus on the objective, and not on the problem
  2. Ask the right questions
  3. Let the solution be a revelation, and not engineered by your own bias

A case in point: A company was concerned about increased customer complaints and loss of business. Ninety percent of the complaints were about how long it took customers to reach a live customer service representative. Based on customer feedback the hold time averaged 15 minutes. Of course, we have to realize that when we are on hold, seconds seems like hours!

  1. Here’s what happens when you focus on the problem?

The problem here was “hold time.” The objective a satisfied customer.

The company and consultants focused on hold time as the problem. Based on the recommendation of consultants, the company spent millions of dollars upgrading technology, training customer service representatives, and adding staff, all to no avail. Customer complaints continued although internal stats showed improved hold times. The managers lost faith in the satisfaction research and consultants.

  1. Ask the right questions with objective in mind – a satisfied customer.

Asking questions has three purposes:

  • Getting to the facts
  • Making you think differently about a situation
  • Letting the solution be discovered

I asked the managers: “How do you measure hold time and how is this different from how the customer measures it? Can we place a sample call to customer service? What number do I dial? I got several 1-800 numbers from the audience, one for every division and every product line.

  1. Let the solution be a revelation, and not engineered by your own bias


  • Hold time measure needs to be customer-centric.
  • Current measure of hold time is internally focused.
  • Hold time has to start with customer dialing the number and end with the greeting of the right customer service rep.
  • Hold time has to take into account multiple transfers, dropped calls, and myriad detours that happen before a customer reaches his destination!
  • Customer has to be given a single 1-800 number. Streamline the process internally to make service seamless.

The operations managers had an “Aha” moment. They streamlined the numbers into a single call-in number, saving millions of dollars and, satisfying customer need.

Asking the right questions is a science and an art. It comes naturally for some people. For others, training helps. Culture plays a role – some cultures naturally are reticent about asking questions of superiors, clients and anyone in authority role. They tend to dive in to solve the problem. Culture-sensitive training helps.