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March 28, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

3 Assumptions That Can Hinder Service Success

March 28, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

3 Assumptions That Can Hinder Service Success


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

When I was younger, a “teaching moment” had me ruminating for days because my insecurity told me I shouldn’t need to be taught – I should already know. Thankfully, I’ve grown into someone who today values a teaching moment because I now know no one knows it all and I appreciate the opportunity to grow as a person. 

If you listened to last week’s podcast with Amy Herman, a New York Times Best-Selling attorney, former Frick Collection Head of Education and art historian who published a new book in December of 2021 titled, “Fixed: How to Perfect the Fine Art of Problem Solving,” you witnessed a teaching moment in real time. (If you haven’t listened, go bookmark it now – it’s a great episode!)

Here’s how it went:

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. All right. So obviously one choice.

Amy Herman: That’s a word that’s not allowed in my program. Sarah. We’re never allowed to say obviously.

And at first, I just said – OK. But then I promptly said it again, so I asked:

Sarah Nicastro: Why the use of the word obviously is prohibited?

Amy Herman: I didn’t mean to catch you in a moment, snagged you. At the beginning of all my sessions, I lay out three rules. The hardest to follow is that for the time that I’m together with my clients, I ask them to refrain from two words, obviously, and clearly.

Amy Herman: The reason is, we live in work in a complex world. Nothing is obvious and even less is clear. So, you say, well obviously we have a case of X. What if I don’t know why it’s obvious? Am I going to stop you and say, Sarah, can you please explain to me why that’s obvious? Instead of assuming a certain level of knowledge and introducing a potentially antagonistic situation, say “It appears to me to be a case of X because of Y and Z.” Not only does that deescalate a situation but think about in companies where there are hierarchies or in the operating room. The doctor says, well, obviously it’s this. What if the intern sees something else? And because of the hierarchy, isn’t going to say, well, Dr. Jones, why can’t it be this? So, if the doctor were wise and thinking about pedagogy and say, well, it appears to me to be this tumor because of all the evidence of X, Y, and Z around it. It’s a better way to observe. It’s a better way to communicate. It’s more inclusive and it deescalates without having to say I’m deescalating. When my sessions are in person, if anyone says obviously or clearly, I make the whole room applaud. So, they’re reminded, oh, maybe I shouldn’t do that. And I want you to know you’re not alone. When I tell people that they broke the rule they use obviously again and again and again. It calls attention to a word that we’re using, and we’re not really sure what the implications are. 

What Assumptions Are Hurting Us in Service?

And this conversation got me thinking. Of course, about how I can do a better job of communicating my observations in a way that is conscious that they are mine and no one else’s, and that gives me the opportunity to welcome discussion or differences of opinion. But also, about how often we make assumptions – as humans, at work, and with customers. 

While it’s a natural tendency and not one to be ashamed of, it is a learning opportunity and something to work on. Maybe if we were to examine more what we think we know in service, we’d realize how much more we have to understand. Here are three areas where I’d guess many of our readers and listeners are using “Obviously…” statements that could be hindering their progress:

  1. Obviously, we know how to provide great service to our customers. Making assumptions about what your customers want and need is risky business. Yes, hopefully it is true that you know how to meet your current customer expectations (and, hint: you only know if you’ve asked). But one thing to consider is that there’s a difference between knowing and doing – so while leadership may “know” how to provide great service, the frontline needs to “do” it, and this requires a breadth of understanding, commitment, and ability on their behalf that “obviously” statements will quickly preclude. Another point to consider is that the definition of “great service” is changing very rapidly. So being too comfortable at any point with what you think you know can be detrimental to your ability to evolve. Rather than taking the stance of knowing, invest in the process of asking – continually – what your customers need. And think outside of the box – not what incremental improvement in your service would make them two percent happier, but what unmet need or significant challenge do they have that you can solve? Ensuring you approach your customer relationships in an inquisitive, open-minded manner is key to relevance. 
  2. Obviously, we should invest in X technology. I’ve seen this go awry more times than I can count. I think the most common scenario is that the leader at the head of the project is so confident in the needs of the business and the workforce that they plow head-in to a technology investment that falls far short when met with the realities of needs that were never really all that understood. Do not assume you know what your workers need to do their jobs well – ask. And listen. The other flavor of this is that leaders see a cool new tech that they automatically feel is a “must.” But is it? Maybe, but maybe not. Don’t assume that because it’s making headlines or looked cool at the last tradeshow you attended or was recommended by a friend that it fits. Investments should be purposeful and meaningful, and in no way does this mean they can’t also be cool but do your due diligence. 
  3. Obviously, we care about our employees. In the face of the Great Resignation, every company understands the need to speak to company culture and employee experience. But there is a big – and I mean, big – difference between throwing around some statements and maybe a gift card here and there to check boxes versus genuinely caring. If you do care about your employees, you’re asking them how they feel and what they need and you’re taking active steps to meet those needs. You are having one-on-ones and understanding the experiences of your frontline worker’s daily lives. You are investing in their mental health. You are recognizing and rewarding them and making sure they know they are valued. You are offering career paths and advancement opportunities to those who are inclined to grow. 

What other assumptions are risky in service? I’d love to hear! I really enjoyed the learning opportunity Amy presented to me, and I hope it’s something that makes you think a bit, too.