Hard Skills versus Soft Skills

Growing up, I was a wiz in spelling but throughout medical school and

residency (eight years of intensive studying and rare sleep) my focus was entirely on medicine. There wasn’t time for pleasure reading and my brain couldn’t fit another fact into it.  Subsequently, my ability to spell significantly dropped off and I found myself “i before e-ing” a lot more often. My focus was entirely on one area and while that built up, other areas dropped off.

Fortune Magazine said in a 2016 article, “…learning comes with a cost and the more time you spend learning, the less time you spend enhancing skills. There gets to be a point where the distraction of learning eats away at your ability to capitalize on it.”  I would argue that intensive specific learning, as found in medical school, law school and those similar, eats away at not only “hard skills,” like spelling, but also “soft skills,” like hospitality or Customer Service.

We have seen the issue of ultra-focus on one area proven detrimental time and again, and none better than the Invisible Gorilla Experiment of Daniel Simon or an updated version of The Moonwalking Bear that was used as an advertisement in the UK, advising car drivers to be aware of cyclists. In the experimental video, a group of students dressed in white shirts are passing around a ball while another group in black shirts are doing the same. The narrator asks the viewer to count the number of passes the team in white makes.  He then relays the answer at the end of the video, but asks if you noticed the gorilla or the moonwalking bear. Sure enough after rewinding the video, the gorilla or the bear walks through the middle of the video. Fifty percent of viewers miss this because their focus is on something completely different (the number of passes being made).

Book-smart people are also not necessarily Customer service smart because of what they consider important. Hard skills (technical part of the job) are given more credence than soft skills (interactive or hospitality part of the job) because, in their minds, soft skills are only for the front-facing employees. Many doctors think, “I am not here to talk to patient’s, I am here to give them a great surgical result!” That thinking just doesn’t work any longer in today’s world.  They have been coddled like elite athletes, and hospitals were at one time at their mercy. Doctors would tell hospitals that if they didn’t like how their patients are treated, they would go elsewhere. This is similar to that elite athlete who tells a team or city that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he will take his skills elsewhere for the money. That coddling is changing as doctors have lost their bargaining chip and are becoming salaried by hospital systems. They now must deliver on both hard and soft skills or fear being let go.

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Finally, book-smart people can’t see the return on investment (ROI).  Often, doctors, lawyers, C-level employees assume Customer service has nothing to do with a high ROI. But in reality, they haven’t done their homework.  The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is able to consistently and reliably benchmark across 10 economic sectors and 40 key industries an analytic measure that allows comparison between those with superior customer service and those with low customer service.  This graph shows that from 2000 to 2013, companies with higher customer satisfaction scores outperform the S&P by nearly 5 fold.

Another ongoing study since 2007, the Customer Experience ROI Study, produced by Watermark Consulting, analyzed the cumulative total stock returns of the top 10 publicly traded Customer service companies (Leaders) and the bottom 10 (Laggards) against each other and the market.  Forrester Research, a leader in Customer service research, determines which companies are in their top 10 and bottom 10 each year by using a Customer Experience Index that they developed.  Since 2007 the Leaders are 35% higher than the S&P and 80% higher than the Laggards. (See graph below)


So you are surrounded by book-smart people. What do you do? Here are three ways to improve the “book-smart’s” Customer service skills.

  1. Soft skill education should become a part of any higher-learning curriculum. Let’s teach them early so it becomes ingrained.
  2. Hospital systems, law offices, and companies should consider Customer Service training workshops. Okay, they didn’t get it in school, let’s do it now.
  3. Show them the numbers! Give them the statistics and prove to them why their ROI will improve no matter what the profession.
“People may be brilliant in academics,
but the world is not made out of absolute facts.”
~Fortune Magazine, Jan. 5, 2016

Are you a book smart person? What are some Customer Service systems you have implemented  into your practice?

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