When a member contacts your organization with a problem, you have to come up with a solution fast. After assessing the situation, you identify the issue and come up with a quick fix, and they leave the interaction satisfied. But what made them call in the first place? And what can you do to avoid those same service calls in the future? Asking this question can improve your association for the long haul.
At PerByte, problem solving is our job. Working to help association technology function smoothly has given us insight into improving our own operations, in a symbiosis that in turn helps us serve the community better.
Our secret to ongoing improvement has been to approach every situation with a solve-it-twice mentality. This article by online tech guru, Joel Spolsky, inspired me to introduce a two-layer problem solving approach. The first solve is: “How do we get past this immediate need?” The second solve is: “What do we change so this isn’t a problem in the future?” These solutions range from a refinement of a definition, to revisiting our core tenets, to a simple change in our expectations. We do all of this openly as a team, aware that this process might change shape as the team grows.
I’ll give you an example of solving it twice. My business runs on the all-mighty billable hour, and this demands a certain approach to managing our time and recording it accurately. We had to create a strategy to make this easier for all staff. To ensure that our timesheets were correct and we knew exactly how much time was spent on each client, the first step was to look at specific cases and revise any hours that were misplaced or misidentified. The second step was to look at how we make these decisions as a group.
How do we define when we’re spending our time on our clients’ needs versus our own? We came up with a set of rules and a short survey to determine that. This reduces the time spent conducting invoice reviews, and we have fewer clients pushing back on our billing system.
This tactic is also useful externally. For example, some of our clients record every instance of customer support provided online. That data is interesting, but recording these customer interactions is not enough if lessons are not gleaned from them that will help in the future.
We worked with a client to create a process where their tech team reviewed a random sampling of customer support inquiries each month, then used it to come up with a way to solve the problem before it happened. It can require changing the wording on the website, improving an online form, or working to honor or revise policies. Incorporating that process into day-to-day operations ensures that the data goes to good use.
Sometimes, this focus on problem-solving is arduous, but I know that if I went back in time, I’d be surprised at how far we’ve come because of it.