The comfort trap. It happens all the time and, to a great extent, it goes unnoticed—to everyone but our customers. We don’t do it intentionally and we don’t do it because it’s the right thing to do. We do it because we are continuously trying to find ways to make our own work lives easier.
In fact, it happened to me just recently at my local fitness club. Upon checking in, the host issued me a locker room key and I proceeded to change into my workout clothes.
Now, I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s not much in life that one can count on, but men can be reasonably confident that they’ll be assigned a locker directly next to the one other guy who happens to be changing at the same time, even when the entire rest of the facility is empty. Nine out of ten times this mysterious coincidence results in a joke between the two people who are stumbling over each other to cram their gear into their lockers while the other fifty feet of locker room sit empty. In fact, this has happened to me and everyone else I know so many times at multiple fitness centers over the years that I began to really try to understand what was behind it.
It makes perfect sense when you think about it, actually. In an effort to stay organized, the person at the front desk issues locker keys in numerical order. It keeps things orderly and efficient for them. What they fail to understand is the impact this has on the customer.
Here’s another example: Many years ago I was working with the members of the student counseling center of a large university. During our assessment we came to the realization that staff members were decorating their offices to suit their own style and comfort in an effort to make themselves feel more at home. Unfortunately, the effect on their student customers was anything but. Students felt uncomfortable entering these spaces because they felt as if they were trespassing into someone else’s personal space. The counselors obviously were not intentionally trying to cause distress for their clients. In fact, this ran exactly counter to their goals.
For everything you do, ask yourself; is it for your comfort or theirs? These are two minor examples of how our drive toward efficiency and order in our work may have unintended consequences on the customers that we are trying to serve.
How to Avoid the Comfort Trap
Here are a few things you may want to consider before patting yourself on the back for your perfect, and fully optimized process.
- Analyze it from multiple stakeholder perspectives. Just as the examples above highlight processes that work for employees but not for customers, there are just as many examples of this working in reverse. Processes that work very well for customers may leave employees having to leap tall buildings in a single bound to deliver day-to-day. A great way to help ensure that you take into account diverse perspectives is to ask these stakeholders to help you develop the processes from the start. It may take a little longer initially but it can help you avoid costly unintended consequences down the road.
- Create continuous feedback loops. Organizations that are able to obtain in-the-moment feedback from their stakeholders and adapt their ways of working quickly are at a distinct advantage in the market. These organizations are able to correct deficiencies and move to a vantage point where they can anticipate future challenges and preemptively address them before they have a chance to sour the experience of a key stakeholder group.
- Create a safe space for soliciting feedback. While some organizations have established enough trust with their stakeholders that this isn’t an issue, others may not be able to get the feedback they need if they take this on themselves. In the case of the student counseling center, it took an unbiased third party investigator to create a safe enough space for the students to feel comfortable voicing their discomfort with the décor of the offices.
- Immortalize your processes but don’t die by them. These key processes for delivering on your brand promise to all of your stakeholders are not something you should leave to chance. By capturing these processes and expectations, training your team to deliver in a consistent way and holding people accountable to it, you will help ensure that everyone clearly understands their role and responsibilities in the bigger picture. Job aids can also be a great way to help people remember the standards and to be sure that nothing slips through the cracks.
Nobody said business is easy. In our best efforts to drive efficiency and to help reduce the burden on ourselves, we may be inadvertently altering the experience of our customers in ways that we’ve never even considered. Without bringing together the diverse stakeholders that impact or are impacted by your processes, there is no way to ensure that you’re not falling into your own comfort trap.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.
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