Fewer teams, similar goals

Last month, I shared my surprisingly pleasant experience cancelling my DocuSign subscription. They made it so easy and painless that it actually left me more likely to recommend them. I had a very different experience with SiriusXM last week, one that I think anyone running a business–or progressing through the college application process–could potentially learn from.

I had two SiriusXM subscriptions—one streaming, and one for a car that my wife and I recently sold. I went to the website, logged into my account, and found all sorts of options to upgrade, but nothing to cancel. So I hopped on the customer service chat, shared what and why I wanted to cancel my former car’s subscription, and spent the next five minutes being reassured that the customer service rep was collecting all the necessary info to help me.

And then she revealed that they have a “special team specifically trained to help with these requests” (I swear I am not making this up) and that I needed to call a 1-800 number to access them.

I was so frustrated that I asked for a supervisor and explained that if they couldn’t make this easier, I’d just end my 14-year run as a SiriusXM customer entirely. The supervisor showed up and took care of everything. But it still left me rankled.

It’s clear that Sirius has gone out of their way to make it difficult for customers to cancel. A team of people in a room made that decision. But then the poor team of customer service reps has to work with that policy to the inevitable frustration of the customer. So you’ve got three teams—management, customer service reps, and customers–and none of them are working together to their mutual benefit.

What outcome does that serve? Does Sirius actually retain more subscribers just by making it harder for them to leave? And even if that works, is it a good long-term strategy?

Imagine if management had told their reps:

“Our desired outcome is to make our customers happy and likely to refer our service to their friends. Your job is to drive those outcomes. Within certain limits that we’ll make clear, whatever you need to do to leave customers better off than when they arrived to you, please do. We trust you.”

Now the three teams are combined and working as one towards a goal where everyone gets what they want. Customers are happy, the reps are making them feel that way, and management sees their subscriber counts rising.

There’s nothing wrong with relying on multiple teams to handle disparate responsibilities. But sometimes that division is unnecessary and counterproductive.

The cast, understudies, lighting techs, and set designers for the school play can act as four distinct teams who care more about their own roles than they do supporting each other for the greater good. Or they can cheer each other on and share mutual pride in their distinct contributions to the shared goal of putting on a great performance.

Students, parents, and counselors can act as three distinct teams, where parents drive the process without listening to advice, counselors struggle to impose some order, and students disengage from listening to anyone. Or they can acknowledge that they each have an important role to play in helping the student land at the right college.

Colleges can hand down edicts to the admissions office to drive application numbers up and admit rates down all in an effort to raise their US News rankings. Or they can spend more time, money, and energy attracting kids who are most likely to gratefully accept an offer of admission and subsequently thrive on campus.

If strife, chaos, or other detriments are plaguing your group or project, take a look at the number of teams in play and the respective roles they’re playing. You might restore some order, good will, and good outcomes with fewer teams when they’re focused on similar goals.