The Misnomer of Collaboration in Delivering Customer Service
Many people consider collaboration as a unseen force that brings people together in total harmony and means everything gets completed with super efficiency and effectiveness. Certainly the marketing of social media tools suggests exactly this. But in my experience practical collaboration is actually a lot less mystical.
In the past we called collaboration Teamwork, and it boiled down to each member having a specific role and when the right combination of people/skills were joined together the result was better than any one individual could do on their own. Sports was the obvious example, where the most amount of success comes from combining individual expertise (offense, mid-court, and defense) with a dynamic person-to-person and end-to-end flow.
Not all businesses are filled with champions of course, but even with mere-mortals like myself involved when there is a great interaction mechanic it can produce fairly impressive results. Of course the reverse can also be true, where individual excellence gets stifled by clunky interaction. We’ve all been there.
In my mind, Collaboration is essentially a one-off piece of teamwork. Those involved may never have worked together before but are put together to work towards one overall goal. So as long as the links in the chain know who-can-do-what, this isn’t really that different – who cares if the individuals worked together once, a few times, or for twenty years.
The basic nugget of wisdom here, is that collaboration is simply the effective putting together of chunks of work for completion by specific people. The right experts, on the right tasks, in the right order – plain and simple. So now knowing this, it would be sensible to build some kind of method around it, for consistent use again and again. Here is my attempt:
1. Formalize the Start
Define the overall goal. What it looks like, feels like, who benefits and how. So many times individual collaborators spiral off in all manner of tangents when they don’t see the big picture (normally what the customer wants).
2. Set Clear Responsibilities
As mentioned above, it should be clear who are the expert collaborators and their domain of expertise. Also allow for unforeseen requirements and situations, making sure general go-to buckets and contacts (often management) exist to avoid stagnation and dead-ends.
3. Define the Plan
Make sure someone is responsible for making a plan of execution. Letting issues and goals bounce around from person to person is not effective progress and clearly uncoordinated customer service. Even an informal plan helps collaborators (and customers) know what is going on now and what should happen next. Regular reviews against plan are also important, including making adjustments to the original plan.
4. Assign Actions
As mentioned, it should be clear who has the current action ownership, what they’re supposed to do, and what their options are going forwards.
5. Validate Completion/Quality
One bad foundation and the building falls down. A mechanism must exist to make sure each action is complete and of sufficient quality that it marks meaningful progress forwards. Collaborators must interact well and on occasion not be afraid to go backwards as well as forwards to ensure proper and complete items of work.
6. Move the Conveyor Belt
Similarly to #3, the plan needs execution and someone often needs to shepherd progress from one collaborator to the next. Ideally this would be automated, but collaboration tends to involve complexity and that can break or fit-badly to automation.
7. Package The Results
Finally sign-off on the end result is needed, so that all collaborators agree that as a whole the result meets the goal. Often actions from one collaborator effects results of another, so a collective confirmation makes sense.