Noobes shouldn’t be on the front line until they can do it with ‘no hands’

The dreaded western customer service job

Yesterday, I had to sit around offices a bit and I watched two people work in jobs that aren’t very high powered.

The noobe

In the first, the relatively more senior job, was a young fellow, baby faced but with determined lower body movements. He was racing the clock as he tried to execute what, for him, is still a complicated sequence of moves.  He took great pleasure in deftly picking up the paper, entering stuff in a computer, standing up, sitting down, and barking out commands to customers.

He needs the time and space to practice but should he really have been released into the wild?

The old hand

The second was a very much more junior job but a more experienced guy was handling two customer points simultaneously.  He was relishing the challenge and got ahead by anticipating what people wanted and priming his work station.  He was still racing the clock, but out of boredom rather than inexperience.

The old hand vs the noobe

The big difference between the two came when the experienced guy had forgotten something I asked for it.  Then I got a big smile and “I am onto it Miss”.  The younger guy would have snapped.  And this is why.

Feedback cycles

Noobe vs old hand

The goal for the the ‘noobe’ was his own performance.  The  goal for the second man was my convenience and satisfaction.  Multi-tasking was just the way he stopped dropping from boredom but he would drop multi-tasking in an instant if customer satisfaction was threatened.

Understanding the psychology of ‘noobishness’

This sounds as it the ‘noobe’ is being morally wrong in some way.  A psychological analysis helps us out of that evaluative trap.

We see what goal is driving someone’s performance by watching what feedback they look for and respond to.

A rank ‘noobe’ attends to their own performance.  They have to.  Indeed, if we want to design a really bad job, we interfere with their do-check cycle.  They cannot get good at a task until they have repeated the task often to their own satisfaction.

Customer service is not the place for ‘noobes’

The trouble is that customer service is one level higher.  It is the same level as supervision.  They have to judge a situation as well as execute work.

In a front line where a lot of customer situations are utterly predictable and require no attention whatsoever from the attendant, then it is OK to put a ‘noobe’ there.  But a supervisor should be close to hand.  The supervisor mustn’t micro manage, because that muddles up do-check feedback system. They must be there to step-in when the situation has changed from a ‘practice turn’ to a ‘choose the bundle of tasks that will lead to customer satisfaction’.

Training supervision

This distinction between situation and execution is the key to training a supervisor.  Are they able to say clearly to their charge: the situation began like this – it has changed to this – now do this – or I’ll finish this and I’ll show you after ward what I did?

So how do ‘noobes’ get experience?

I’m a teacher and I also consult.  All my life, I’ve tried to take on work that creates practice slots for juniors.  But there have to be some rules.

  • Confidentiality:  I teach them to forget everything they see and hear in the office.  Write it down. Put it in a file.  Wipe your mental slate. Then when someone tries to find out things from you, you can honestly say they’ve forgotten.  Everything is recorded and forgotten.  (This may be less essential in other businesses but we deal with personal data.)  The sweet line “Tell me again what you do” is anyway a great conversational opener.
  • Rhythm: I teach them to look at me and make sure I have given them permission to speak before they open their mouths in front of a client.  The reason is this. I might be following a conversational line that they don’t follow. If they interrupt, the client loses their train of thought.
  • Alerts: If they believe there is something that I should know about, they can catch my eye.  That look is very different from the look of “I would like to practice a little now.”  I’ll immediately take them outside and ask what has concerned them.

With these three rules, ‘noobes’ can observe interactions with customer and gradually ease into bigger roles.

They earn their keep with carefully calibrated back room tasks following two principles: (A) Never give to a ‘noobe’ what cannot be redone and (B) Show them and make them practice over-and-over again until they can do it “with no hands”, so to speak.

Then they are able to handle the rapidly changing requirements of customer service.  But they aren’t handling the customer on their own until they can do all the technical stuff with “no hands”.  Their minds must be free to attend to the people they are speaking to.

Noobe? To break away from crude pecking orders, get rich information

It is such a pain being a ‘noobe’ – any place, any where

We are dazzled, momentarily, when we arrive.  Woot!  We are here.  We start to build relationships; we start to climb our way up the pecking order; and reality sets in.   We are jostled by every one we pass, and we shove back or skip past, depending on our taste for conflict or the weapons at our disposal.

The rank structure of the bloggersphere

In the blogging world, the first disillusionment of the noobe blogger comes when we understand that there are already kids in charge of the block.  They are called the “A list” bloggers.  By dint of being around longer, A-list bloggers command the playground.  One word from them and we are made!

We cluster around the A-listers hoping to be mistaken for the in-crowd.  We tweet them, @ClayShirky for example, hoping that our friends think we actually know them.

And the A-listers ignore us, just as the cool kids ignored us all those years ago at school.  Oddly, the more we fawn, the easier it is for them to ignore us.  You’d think we might have learned something from school.

The long road to a stronger blog ranking

In the blogging world, longevity really matters.  A stopped stone gathers moss, readership and Google page rank.  Life in the blogosphere is as simple as that.

We newcomers have a long journey from 4 page hits to 40 to 400 to 4000, from the very occasional comment to comments daily, from occasional readers to regular readers.

On the journey, we worry.  Is my writing too light? Is it too heavy?  Should I be more provocative or less?  Should I used better keywords, or not?

Rich information from Alexa Rankings

I use Alexa Rankings every few weeks to give me a sense of how I am doing.  And then I do a comparison with the big old established sites!

Pointers from Alexa Rankings

I can stop worrying that my writing is too inaccessible.  People spend more than 10 minutes on my site.  Not an easy read – sure – but people are reading.

My bounce rate is a lowish 30%.  Many A-listers have bounce rates of 70%.

And my visitors look at an average of 8 pages.  That’s very high.   (Thank you!).

Moreover, as these are averages, the people who stay are staying for a long time.  (A double thank you!)

Rich information helps us understand our role in our new playground

These figures are much better than most A-listers.  That gives me heart that I am doing something right.  I wish I had more comments though!  It would be nice to be able to shape the blog around topics and styles that you find interesting.

But I thank you anyway!   More people are coming and my site continues to climb the rankings at home and abroad.  Alexa kindly gives me the details and I can track my progress against my goals, which includes getting progressively more traffic from the UK

I also get some idea of what to improve.  I don’t get a lot of traffic from search, for example. I could obviously do a bit of SEO!

If you are a ‘noobe’,  Alexa Rankings are a good monthly stop.  The rich information provides the perspective every noobe needs to understand the rules and to break away from the crude rankings and pecking orders that rule all playgrounds!

Break the tyranny of the pecking order

Whenever we are new, somewhere in some place, we need to look for the equivalent of Alexa Rankings to escape the tyranny of crude pecking orders.  Look! Find!  Ask a richer set of questions  than whether the A-listers know us.

Get oriented!  Sanity for we noobes!