If I was limited to teach just one business concept to my organization, I’d choose Critical Thinking. Critical Thinking helps you in every business situation – hiring, employee management, conflict resolution, customer service, strategic planning, operational execution, and even choosing what to serve at the company holiday party.
So you can imagine I was thrilled when a Vantiv reseller partner recently asked me to conduct a Critical Thinking workshop with his customer service reps and his management team. Below is some of what we discussed. This information is through the lens of customer service, but I’m sure you’re smart enough to extrapolate these principles to other areas of your business.
Critical Thinking is the process of determining what you want to accomplish (the outcomes), evaluating what you know, and determining what actions must be taken to achieve those outcomes. An employee who thinks critically will be able to analyze complex situations your company’s policies may not specifically address. Company documents plus books and articles can detail the steps required to solve some core problems. But these documents alone will not be completely effective because they can’t be detailed enough to match specific situations.
Use Critical Thinking whenever you are faced with a problem that needs solved or a situation that needs planning. Critical Thinking helps you avoid making decisions based on emotions, low information, or overconfidence.
There are six basic steps of Critical Thinking:
1. Fully understand the philosophy and process of the best practices.
Best practice information is gathered from several sources including company philosophies/principles, company procedure documents, research (books, magazines, websites, blogs), the experience of your co-workers, and your own life experience.
2. Fully understand the situation.
Most people fall short here. They “go with what they know” instead of skeptically considering if they have an information blind spot. Before engaging with the customer, thoroughly review notes in your CRM database to understand their history, their current goals, their staff, and more. You also need to understand your products and services, especially the ones that would be most effective for the customer. You can’t provide effective customer service working in a vacuum.
3. Clearly define the desired outcomes.
Determine the Business Outcomes and Emotional Outcomes you want to achieve. Clear, specific, measureable outcomes are best. When determining Business Outcomes, you are answering the question, “What is to be accomplished in order to help the customer?” In other words, what are you trying to get done? Emotional Outcomes are a little trickier and are often overlooked. Here you are answering the question, “What is to be accomplished in order to leave the customer feeling a certain way?” No matter how large or small a customer is – or how reasonable or unreasonable their complaint – you want every customer to feel certain positive emotional outcomes and, of course, you want to avoid negative emotional outcomes.
Positive emotional outcomes go beyond “happy” to include: confident, eager, hopeful, less overwhelmed, not rushed, treated like an individual, and valued. Negative emotional outcomes you need to focus on avoiding include: anxious, bored, confused, frustrated, helpless, misunderstood, nervous, not listened to, overwhelmed, and shocked/surprised.
4. Detail your action plan.
A complete action plan answers specifically who, what, and when. The “what” section of your action plan doesn’t need to be painfully detailed. It should be a set of directions you want to take, lightly filled in with only necessary information. Determine which questions you will ask and actions you will take – just as much as you need – to achieve your outcomes.
I recall meeting with an employee and asking him to create an action plan to achieve his outcomes. We reconnected later that week, and he was exhausted. He had created a 10-page, single-spaced, minutiae-filled document that took him hours of overtime to write. Needless to say, we didn’t read through the document together. Instead, we focused on improving his Critical Thinking.
5. Evaluate your plan.
Review your action plan in the order it will probably be executed. Be skeptical and obviate how the customer may respond to your questions. Ask yourself if this plan will achieve your intended outcomes. Adjust your plan as needed.
Avoid overconfidence at this stage! Your mindset when evaluating your action plan should not be, “I’m sure everything will work out like I planned.” Instead, ask yourself, “What could possibly go wrong?” and truly stress-test the weakest areas of your plan. If necessary, ask for outside help from someone who is not emotionally invested in the situation to offer their perspective.
6. Develop a contingency plan.
Assume that parts of your original plan won’t work. What will you do if the plan does not achieve the desired outcome? Develop follow-up questions to answers the customer might give. Prepare questions to ask if the customer responds differently than you anticipate. And again ask yourself, “Will this plan achieve my intended outcomes?” Don’t think of this as a Plan B separate from your original plan. This step will help you determine a range of actions you can take when you encounter obstacles during the customer service engagement.
Because our industry is changing faster than ever, now is the perfect time to equip each member of your team with a custom-fit Critical Thinking cap. If you’d like to accomplish that, I have two suggested actions for you. (I originally had three actions to suggest, but #1 was to read this article, so you’re 33% of the way there already.)
Action #1: Contact me to discuss conducting a professional development workshop with your team. Through Vantiv’s PaymentsEdge Advisory Service, I’ve developed staff workshops on Communication, Customer Service, and Perfecting Perseverance, all of them receiving rave reviews from reseller employees and managers alike. This service is free to qualified Vantiv partners.
Action #2: Purchase and read Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The book features excellent concepts such as the Four Villains of Decision Making and Tripwires, and it includes great quotes like, “We are quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that's just offstage.” Decisive is well worth the $15-$20 you’ll spend to buy the book.