What Schoolhouse Rock can teach us about customer service


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I’m just a bill. Yes, I’m only a bill.

Bill, from “I’m Just a Bill” by Schoolhouse Rock, circa 1976
Source: ABC.go.com

For those unfamiliar with it, Schoolhouse Rock is a series of short films and videos that first aired during Saturday morning children’s shows on the U.S. television network ABC. Covering a variety of topics including grammar, science, economics, history, mathematics, and civics, it originally ran from 1973 to 1985 (with some additional seasons later). It was during its initial run that one particular short titled “I’m Just a Bill”–the process and challenges it takes for a bill to become a law in the United States–first appeared.

So what does an animated social studies lesson have to do with customer service? Quite a bit, it turns out. If you remember “I’m Just a Bill,” continue reading; otherwise, take a moment to quickly review the video and lyrics.

“Just an idea”

In the video, the bill starts as a concept: requiring buses to stop to check for any oncoming trains when crossing a railroad track. Citizens band together and suggest to their Congressman this should be a law.

This notion of raising an issue is like cases in customer service: cases represent something wrong or not working correctly. Just as the bill represents citizens’ safety concerns, a case created in customer service reflects difficulties a customer is experiencing. And just like the bill, that issue will simply linger as a case unless action is taken.

Favorable to all

A bill comes before the United States Congress because it has a potential benefit. As the video portrays, it might be to increase the safety of buses crossing railroad crossings; it might also address a social issue or allocate government spending. A bill can represent many different types of issues.

Again, this parallels a case in customer service. A case represents something wrong with the customer experience; after all, a customer contacts customer service really only in situations where they are having difficulty. The customer needs an answer or resolution and the case acts as the channel for communicating this. When the case remains open in customer service with no solution, it does no good for individual customers nor does it address the underlying problem impacting the customer experience.

“Sitting in committee…”

Bills in Congress typically go through a lengthy study, debate, and voting process that must occur in both the House of Representatives then again in the Senate. Once a bill is passed by both the House and Senate, it goes to the President to sign to become law.

Cases can follow a similar (though hopefully much shorter) process. Once an issue has been identified (say a billing error affecting a large number of customers), customer service and finance must work together to identify the cause of the problem. Once found, they discuss the best method to address it.

In contrast to the seemingly endless debates that occur in the United States Congress, this discussion can be greatly simplified, and a conclusion reached much faster. Using workflow, customer service can assign issues raised by cases directly to the department responsible. Unlike using email and spreadsheets, workflow ensures the problem is properly routed, avoiding slowdowns and stoppages. Workflow can then power the discussion around the best route to resolve the issue. Service Level Agreements are maintained, and the customer issue can be quickly resolved.

“I hope and pray that I will…”

The whole point of the bill is to propose a worthy idea, stimulate discussion, and craft a law based on the bill (or an even better law as a result of the debate). The law is now permanent and offers a benefit of some form to the citizens of the United States.

Consider again the billing example above. When customer service is connected to and working cooperatively with the entire organization, customer service can more easily work with other teams to identify and resolve the root cause of an issue. When that occurs, it’s no longer necessary for customer service to provide one-time workarounds for the problem. Even more importantly, additional customers will never encounter the issue, improving the customer experience.

Driving results

You probably never realized the similarities between the process of a bill becoming a law in the United States and case management in customer service. Thanks to the simplification offered by “I’m Just a Bill,” those likenesses are hard to miss.

Customer service has a distinct advantage over the legislative process. With teams focused on ever-improving the customer experience, workflow can be used to efficiently connect customer service with other departments. The review, discussion, and resolution process can be completed much faster.

Both lawmaking and case resolution strive for a positive outcome. Permanent solutions that improve the customer experience are only possible when customer service works with other teams across the organization. When this happens, cases don’t “die” in customer service and a better customer experience is realized.

Paul Selby
I am a product marketing consultant for Aventi Group. Aventi Group is the first product marketing agency solely dedicated to high-tech clients. We’re here to supplement your team and bring our expertise to bear on your top priorities, so you achieve high-quality results, fast.


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