Whenever I start a new project I want to get as close to the customer as possible, trying to discover “what our customers are saying” (or, WOCAS). Even though our clients can share reams of data on customer contacts, usually via hundreds of reason or contact codes, most of those data are worthless (agents often pick the first-listed code or most contacts are multi-issue).

Instead, I find that’s it’s best to go to the where the action is – sit next to agents for a couple of hours at a time – and then start to form the picture of WOCAS, and then apply text mining to glean deeper insights. I probably got this idea from working closely with Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in the late 70s and early 80s at McKinsey researching what became In Search of Excellence. Tom loved to talk about how Hewlett and Packard used to “manage by wandering about” (MBWA) at HP; Tom later urged managers to reserve 2 hours per week to MBWA, even publishing calendars with two hour blocks grayed out to signal not holding meetings but, rather, wander around and check out operations in person.

At Amazon, where I was its first Global VP of Customer Service, I did just that – spent a minimum of 2 hours per week sitting next to agents “observing” calls or emails, what I used to call “the 5% solution” (2/40 hours = 5%). Typically in each call I would discover 4-5 brand new ideas that I would email to my colleagues around the company.

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