Rework’s “Alone Zone” And Its Unexpected Application To Customer Service

Yesterday, I presented my synopsis of the terrific book Rework by Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson for a corporate client in Dallas.  In the midst of the presentation, we had some energetic conversation about this quote:

If you’re constantly staying late and working weekends, it’s not because there’s too much work to be done.  It’s because you’re not getting enough done at work.  And the reason is interruptions…  you can’t get meaningful things done when you’re constantly going start, stop, start, stop.

Instead, you should get in the alone zone.  Long stretches of alone time are when you’re most productive.  When you don’t  have to mind-shift between various tasks, you get a boatload done.

During alone time, give up instant messages, phone calls, e-mail, and meetings.  Just shut up and get to work.  You’ll be surprised how much more you get done.

I have presented this synopsis a few times, and the idea of “alone time” is one that resonates.  We all live in a world of constant interruptions.  And the advice from this book, which I have followed by carving out “chunks of time” for work, is invaluable.

Later in the discussion, we talked about customer service.  I observed that there has been no shortage of customer service programs and initiatives and training and haranguing for decades, yet fewer than 10% of companies are actually rated as providing excellence in their customer service.

One of the participants stated that it is tough to get in the “alone zone” when your job is a customer service job.  In other words, customer service is, by its very nature,  one interruption after another.  But as I thought about it, I decided that, in fact, this provides the exact approach we all need to take.

If your job is customer service, then you, and the individual customer with an issue at hand, need to be totally alone – that is, you need to be totally focused on this customer and his or her situation.  You, the customer service professional (and we are all, in moments spent responding to a customer, expected to be a customer service professional) need to give undivided, uninterrupted attention to that specific customer until the issue is resolved.  No hurry – no hassle – total attention to one customer at a time.  Alone zone – together, you and one customer.

It reminds me of the great advice once given by a radio personality (sorry — I do not remember which person said this):  “when you are on the radio, always picture one individual listener.”

So, when you work in customer service, focus only on that one, single, individual customer – one customer at a time.

Rework: back cover

One thought on “Rework’s “Alone Zone” And Its Unexpected Application To Customer Service

  1. Robert

    Top 10 Companies With the Most Customer Service Complaints on Twitter: AT&T Worst, Apple Sixth
    We analyzed thousands of customer service complaints on Twitter (from 13 Aug 2010 to 16 Aug 2010), to find out which corporations caused the most frustration.

    Data was first collected from the Twitter Search API, using a search for “customer service” together with any one of: fail, sucks,worst, poor, bad, terrible or awful. Tweets that included links were filtered out, as were re-tweets, to maximize the likelihood of personal experiences and reduce tweets about articles or stories (e.g. Jet Blue, Santander and O2 customer service stories were prevalent over the survey period).

    The extracted tweets were placed into an Excel spreadsheet and manually verified over the course of a day, to check the validity of the complaints (i.e. to ensure that tweets like “I’ve never received bad customer service from X” weren’t included), and to extract the correct names of corporations (i.e. some people use the full company name, others use Twitter usernames, hash-tags, or abbreviations). Where described in the tweet, we also recorded the cause of the frustration, e.g. slow service or rudeness.


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