Bad Passes & Missed Free-throws: Mistakes That Can Cost You the Game (And How To Avoid Them)

Basketball has long been my favorite sport. Although I never played organized ball, I’ve always been drawn to the fast pace, the feats of athleticism and the drama of a close game. Of course, having a high-schooler on the local basketball team probably has something to do with it too.

I’m always amazed at how many games are won by the wrong team. By that I mean that the better team, at least according to the stats (and conventional wisdom), loses. How is it that the teams with all the talent, the best coaching, and the home crowd so often come up short – hanging their heads while the underdogs celebrate?

Usually, when a championship calibre team suffers a defeat, it’s not because of some sudden explosion of talent from the other bench. Rather, it comes down to fundamentals – basics of the game that don’t receive much attention until a failure to execute them results in disaster. There are certain aspects of the game that can spell ruin for even the greatest team – whether its on the basketball court or in business. Here are three problems to watch out for, and how to avoid them.

1. Bad passes. The handoff between departments is an important part of handling any customer interaction. Whether its transferring a customer call, or the movement of documents from one area of responsibility to another, great care should be taken to ensure that “passing the ball” is handled properly. Nothing is more frustrating to a customer than to see great service suddenly go bad because someone dropped the ball.

How to avoid this problem:
– Identify your danger zones – steps where the ball is passed from one person or department to another. Engaging in some simple process mapping will force these into the open.

– Develop strategies to ensure tasks (and customers) crossing through the danger zone don’t fall through the cracks. Implement checklists, notification systems or other accountability measures to make sure important items aren’t missed and customer confidence is maintained.

– Once your new process is established, communicate its importance, making sure to emphasize how each individual contributes to the success of the team. Train everyone involved. Conduct skill drills and role plays to make sure they understand how the work is supposed to flow. Don’t forget new employees. Don’t let a service breakdown be their introduction to the desired process.

– Review the process regularly to make sure it reflects any changes to technology, regulations or customer expectations.

2. Missed free-throws. Free-throws are those easy-to-get-right transactions and activities that occur every day; things like getting the order right, showing up on time, and returning a phone call when you said you would. Customers expect you to get the little things right. Take care to hit the mark on the easy stuff and they’re more likely to trust you when it comes time for something involving a greater degree of risk. But fail to execute on the simple things and your credibility will suffer.

How to avoid this problem:
– Set expectations you know are attainable, not ones you think you can meet. Give yourself some wiggle room. Leave plenty of room for appointments to run long rather than shoe-horning meetings into every available bit of free time. If you think you can get an answer by lunch, tell your customer you’ll call them by the end of the day.

– Develop systems to make success almost guaranteed. Use your calendar to schedule return phone calls and set an alert so you won’t miss it. Design quality checks into the order-filling process so that you can deliver with confidence. Prepare back-up systems so that customers aren’t left in limbo because the one person who can help them came down with the flu.

3. Failure to rebound. Problems happen. Despite your best efforts, you will miss the mark occassionally. So, being ready to bounce back from a miss is critical. When service issues arise, your ability to rebound can turn a customer whose faith has been shaken into an advocate for life. In fact, research has shown that a customer who has experienced a problem, and has subsequently seen that problem resolved to their satisfaction, is more loyal than one who has never experienced a problem to begin with. Customers understand that mishaps occur; but they expect you to respond appropriately.

How to avoid this problem:
– Identify where service breakdowns are most likely to occur. Every business has them. You should know what your’s are. If you don’t, ask a few customers. They’ll tell you where you fall short.

– Develop automatic rebound strategies for these issues. Specify an appropriate response to each service issue. When problem “A” happens, we respond with solution “B.” When “X” occurs, we do “Y.”

– Train your employees and empower them to execute the strategies you’ve developed. If you’re smart, you included them in both the problem identification and solution development phases, so adoption should be easy. People are more likely to buy into solutions they helped develop.

Too many times, we focus on our newest product roll-out, the latest store remodel or the shiny new technology; when all our customers want is for us to execute on the little things that affect them most. Invest the time and effort necessary to shore up these base-level expectations and you’ll create a foundation of trust upon which to highlight your organization’s product or service.

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