Adam Grant begins his book, Originals, by acknowledging two routes to achievement: conformity and originality. As the title implies, Grant explores the latter route – improving the status quo by rejecting conformity. As one would expect, Grant references examples of extreme and dramatic product innovation as the result of original thinking and maverick mentality. But it is when Grant examines customer service that we realize how much there is to be learned from his insights about when and how to step outside the box to simply “make things better.”
Grant references a correlation discovered by economist Michael Houseman between the effectiveness and longevity of customer service employees and the internet browser they used. Comparing customer service employees who used Chrome or Firefox to those who used Internet Explorer or Safari, those using Chrome/Firefox remained in their position longer, were less likely to miss work, had significantly higher sales and shorter call times. Perhaps, most importantly, their customers were happier as well.
What made the difference was not the browser function itself, or even the level of tech savvy on the part of the customer service representative. The gap would be explained by the level of initiative shown to engage a preferred browser. Explorer or Safari are default browsers for PCs and Apple products. Nearly two-thirds of customer service reps used the default browser provided and approached their work the same way—following SOP for handling everything, including customer complaints.
To get Firefox or Chrome, one has to demonstrate some resourcefulness and download a different browser. “And that act of initiative, however tiny, is a huge window into what and how one does at work,” writes Grant. The way these employees approached their jobs was similar to the way in which they bucked status quo to obtain Chrome or Firefox. When they encountered a situation they didn’t like, they fixed it – to the benefit of their customers and without additional cost to their company. It’s not surprising that the extra effort would result in happier customers, but it also produced happier and more productive employees!
As Grant writes, “The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists. Knowing when, how and if to get ‘out of the box’ is important in all types of work.” …including professional sales and customer service!
To leverage this kind of originality and initiative, two things need to happen. First, the organization needs to foster originality in problem solving and support it with a reasonable level of flexibility among sales and customer service professionals. Second, we, in our individual roles, must continually look beyond the box for opportunities to improve the customer experience.