Approaching Customer Service with a Beginner’s Mind

As a Customer Service consultant, I have listened to years’ worth of customer service interactions.  I have heard thousands of service representatives ply their trade and hone their skills.  I have compared the rates of success of tenured reps with those of their inexperienced colleagues, and I have noticed that the most effective reps are the beginners.  Or, to be more exact, the reps who approach their work with the beginner’s mind.  

A beginner’s mind is open and aware, ready to experience new things.  A beginner’s mind approaches tasks and events without the baggage of preconceptions, seeks out new information, sees things with fresh eyes, and hears things for the first time.  This mindset helps customer service Reps avoid assumptions, build a relationship with their customer, and increases the likelihood that they will come up with an outside-of-the-box solution to unusual problems.

One of the biggest pitfalls of customer service is the assumption that this interaction will be just like the one (or the ten, twenty, or one hundred) that came before it.  When the Rep starts a call with a beginner’s mind, she has no preconceptions of what is about to happen.  She is genuinely curious about the person on the other end of the line.  Who are they?  What do they need?  Are they having a good day or a bad day?  No matter what the answer, there are no disappointments for the Rep, because – as a beginner – she is not comparing it to any previous outcomes.  Her natural response is “this is interesting – what can I do to help?”

When encountering a challenging personality, the Rep with the beginner’s mind is not frustrated or defensive when the cranky customer on the other end of the line does not meet their ideal.  Instead, the Rep can see the customer from a fresh perspective as someone who is just doing their best, whose intentions are to do the right thing.  They too are struggling, just as the Rep is, and it becomes easier for the Rep to remember that both parties are working toward a positive outcome, making the win-win scenario more likely.

The beginner’s mind is ideal for problem-solving.  When approaching a complex or unusual issue, the Rep isn’t hampered by the feeling that “this isn’t what I ordinarily do,” because all options have the same weight – they are all new.  Consequently, the choice to think independently, and proactively try something that might lead to an effective and timely resolution in this specific situation, is not pushed aside by the habit of staying within one’s comfort zone.  All paths forward are judged on their own merit in the here and now, and the idea that provides a solution is much more likely to prevail. 

The beginner’s mind goes by many names.  Zen Buddhists know it as Shoshin.  Call center coaches call it “Pressing the Reset button.”  Ironically, it is often easier for experienced reps to get their arms around the concept than it is for novices.  But when we embrace the idea that everything is new, when we are totally present for our conversations and curious about how they will unfold, our interactions with our customers are transformed.  And the good news is that the beginner is in all of us, not just our CSRs.  Which leads to the question;  what would happen if a call center manager walked into work one day and looked at their facility with a beginner’s mind?  Might they see a workspace that can be brightened?  Processes that can be streamlined? A corporate culture that can be lifted?  It’s a brand-new world out there.  All we have to do is see it.  


Sharon Oatway
President & Chief Experience Officer
VereQuest Incorporated
416-362-6777 Ext. 222 (Business)
647-268-5389 (Mobile)