Applying the KonMari method to customer service

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Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

It’s about choosing joy.

– Marie Kondo

Such is the basic tenet of the organization method “KonMari” by “tidying expert” Marie Kondo. Her New York Times best-seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” teach that if you take the time to properly simplify and organize your home, you’ll never have to do it again.

While many associate Kondo’s method with tidying and organizing, it’s really about discarding items that lack value. Clutter accumulates over time, and much of it is comprised of low- or no-value items. Customer service is not immune to this phenomenon–over time, tools and processes can swell, reducing effectiveness. Applying KonMari’s six rules to customer service will result in a leaner, more organized approach–not just choosing joy, but delivering it to customers, as well.



Rule 1 – Commit yourself to tidying up

The first step in any project always seems to be the hardest. It means new work, change, and possible frustration. KonMari recognizes this and therefore the first rule is one of introspection and dedication. The change that is necessary and desired is only possible with commitment.

To tidy up customer service, that commitment goes beyond the walls of the department. Recognizing the need and plotting a course towards simplification and improvement requires other teams and their commitment. This ensures a shared vision and purpose towards de-cluttering customer service delivery.

Rule 2 – Imagine your ideal lifestyle

This rule is important because it helps with establishing the shared vision for what customer service can be as well as serving as a deterrent to allowing the clutter to reaccumulate. There are two sides to it: the ideal for customers and for customer service.

Customers

Ideally, it should be easy for customers to get solutions to their problems and customers expect self-service to be an option. It can take many forms: chatbots, knowledge bases, online communities, and automated solutions powered by workflow. These should be offered in addition to traditional telephone, email, and live chat channels.

But really the ideal customer experience is one where they enjoy a product or service as intended, devoid of problems. While this isn’t entirely realistic–there will always be something that comes up–the ideal way to address this is for customer service to work collaboratively with the entire organization to address customer issues–be they product quality, unclear instructions, billing problems, etc.–so that future customers won’t encounter them. This requires a customer-centric culture and working together across the company.

Customer service

The customer service agent’s ideal lifestyle starts with a workspace that is easy-to-use. It should support how they work with minimal clicks, scrolling, and screen changes. Lists are used where appropriate to minimize typing and to standardize reporting. Observe how agents work to determine the best way to streamline their work.

Agents should have assistive technologies integrated into their workspace. As they work with customers, machine learning offers potential solutions from knowledge articles, answered questions from online forums, and closed cases. They are kept aware of developing issues. Self-service also helps agents by reducing the burden of questions about common issues.



Rule 3 – Finish discarding first

This is where looking for low- and no-value clutter comes into play. Before charting a course towards the ideal, figure out what is irrelevant and eliminate it.

Zero value clutter can take many forms in customer service. It could be multiple disconnected systems required by agents to do their daily work; can they be consolidated or better integrated to simplify work (and reporting)? Is the knowledge base populated by hundreds of out-of-date articles that only serve to lengthen customer searches and confuse them? Are all those telephone numbers necessary?

Rule 4 – Tidy by category, not by location

KonMari directs people to perform their work by item–shoes, books, clothing, etc.–rather than a place. Because clutter can accumulate in more than one location, it’s important to see it all as one thing, regardless of where it might be hiding.

In customer service, declutter similarly: cases might be created by customers online or by agents; knowledge articles appear in customer and agent searches; etc. Eliminating the clutter and improving its organization will reorient its purpose.

Rule 5 – Follow the right order

KonMari has a precise order for organizing the home. For customer service, create a prioritized list of the problem areas. If agent productivity is low, examine how to improve their workspace. If customers are experiencing low success with the knowledge base, is it too many articles, poor article quality, or something else? Start where the biggest difficulties exist, then move down the list.

Rule 6 – Ask yourself if it sparks joy

Part of the tidying up process involves the declutterer holding an item in both hands and asking, “does this spark joy?” Kondo’s point is that items that don’t spark joy hold no value and are just taking up space. Just as with imagining the ideal, measure the joy from both the customer and customer service perspective.

Does the customer experience joy when they fill out a complex form online to send an email? Is the customer service agent feeling joy as they manually assign those email requests to other agents to resolve? This is not to say every “low joy” situation can be eliminated. But could the level of joy be increased simply by taking another approach, like reducing that customer email form down to fewer fields that machine learning could analyze and then assign to an available and appropriately-skilled agent?



Finding joy

Clutter. It accumulates much too easily in both our personal and professional lives. By the time we notice, we face a mountain of disarray and tough decisions to make. In customer service especially, such clutter can hurt the customer experience and reduce service efficiency.

Thanks to an approach like KonMari, the clutter can be tamed. Follow Kondo’s six rules, and the joy can be restored in customer service.

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