Kevin is a service supervisor for a mid-sized mechanical contracting firm. He has six technicians visiting customers every day. As new technicians joined his team over the past couple of years, more and more of his communication with the field would go like this – The phone would ring. He would answer it. The technician on the other end would tell him that he’d arrived at the customer’s location. “What needs to be repaired?” Kevin would ask.

The technician would say, “I don’t know. I haven’t checked yet.”

“So why are you calling me?” Kevin would ask.

After a while, he thought, “This can’t go on!” So he changed tactics. When a technician called to let him know he had arrived, Kevin hung up on him. The technician would call back and say, “I think we got disconnected.”

“No we didn’t,” Kevin would respond, and then hang up again. “It took some of them half a dozen times to figure out that they didn’t need to report their every move,” said Kevin. “They needed to go to work and fix the problem on their own.”

When I expressed surprise at his abrupt approach, Kevin said, “I know it’s kind of in-your-face, but it’s a lot more effective than telling them to think for themselves every time they call.” Whether or not you agree with Kevin’s approach, you can’t argue with his results. While it might be argued that culture inside a contracting firm is considerably different than a bank, retailer, or hospital, I believe a lot can be learned from Kevin:

#1 – Rather than calling a meeting to let his techs know that they didn’t have to report every move they made, he took a more direct approach. If someone got offended when he hung up, they didn’t report him to human resources. They figured out how their behavior had to change and quickly.

#2 – He compelled them to reason. Kevin didn’t create a set of rules for when to call. That would have been a never-ending task as endless exceptions arose. He said, in essence, “Think for yourself!” but in a way that left them with no alternative other than to think things through for fear of being hung up on.

#3 – He made it memorable, even fun. We can imagine the techs asking each other, “Did he hang up on you? and laughing about it. We can also imagine each one calling Kevin and saying, “DON’T HANG UP! I have a legit question,” which is a sure sign that they’ve thought the problem through in advance. In a peculiar sort of way, this approach may have even served as a bit of team-building for he and those he supervises.

Now, will this kind of in-your-face approach work in every situation? Certainly not. Kevin solved his problem with a bit a creativity and a belief that a little shock value can go a long way in changing behavior. How can you adapt this idea to stop the flow of mindless questions and calls from those around you?

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