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What Lost Socks Taught Me About Customer Experience

  • by Andy Elliott
  • May 07, 2015

SocksRecently, I was browsing Facebook and saw a post that caught my eye. It was a photo of a small wooden board. There were clothes pins attached and a painted heading that read: “Sole Mates.” The idea is to hang this board in your laundry room, and whenever you find a single sock, pin it to the board in hopes the missing sock will show up and find its “mate.” 

Several people liked the post, commenting on how clever and useful the board is. I, on the other hand, was immediately struck by its futility. In the business world, you would never want to put a process in place to address the result of a regular and recurring problem instead of fixing it. But do you?

Finding Your Socks Before They Get Lost

When I joined the United States Air Force, I was put in barracks with 55 other guys to complete basic training. We changed socks at least twice daily and did laundry every weekend. Imagine 55 airmen trying to match 14 pairs of socks each. Chaos, right? But, the USAF taught us a better method than that.

We simply pinned several pairs of socks together with a piece of white cloth before they went into the washer. The cloth had the first initial of our last name and last four digits of our Social Security Account Number stamped on it.

That simple approach stuck with me. In fact, I have pinned my socks together ever since. But the larger lesson I learned was that I should look for ways to address issues before they become problems.

2 Lessons I Learned From My Daughters

Years later, when my three daughters were 10, 8 and 3, I walked into the kitchen to find several refrigerator magnets on the floor. I gathered all three girls in the kitchen and asked which one had knocked off the magnets.  

Looking confused, my oldest said, “Dad, those fall off all the time.” The other two quickly agreed. I asked, “You mean to tell me that these just fall off, and you put them back on the refrigerator?” “YES,” rang the chorus.

That was the day we threw out the faulty magnets. It was also the day I learned two more lessons:  

  1. People with good intentions often do unproductive things they don’t need to be doing.

    My kids were picking up something and putting it away without being told, which, after all, is good! But, was it something that needed to be done? And could we have prevented the problem?

  2. Unless the process fails, you won’t even know they’re doing it.
  3. Until I saw the magnets on the floor, I had no idea they were falling. This tells me that people can be doing a great job, but they only get recognition when something goes wrong. Which makes me wonder why employees are often lauded when they correct negative customer impact after it happens.

Where Can You Pin the Socks?

As the senior vice president of customer experience for CSI, I consider the Sole Mates board the equivalent of experiencing a customer impact issue and then addressing the problem. For my teams, better customer experience is delivered by preventing the impact before it even becomes an issue. And while we have all earned the appreciation from our customers when we ride to the rescue, that’s only important as long as it’s the exception.

Pinning socks and picking up magnets taught me more than a few lessons about housekeeping—they taught me that, in business, the most effective customer experience systems prevent problems before they happen. So I challenge you to implement a customer experience system that rewards your staff for proactively thwarting customer impact. And how do you do that? You start by finding opportunities to “pin the socks.” 

Andy Elliott is senior vice president of customer experience for CSI. In his role, he oversees CSI’s Relationship Management, Customer Service, Implementations and Education Services departments. Andy joined CSI in 1980 after four years in the United States Air Force. During his 35-year tenure with CSI he has held various positions in sales, operations, customer service, account management, corporate communications and marketing and education services.