By Rob Barker, Technical Support Manager
Kepner-Tregoe Program Leader
IBM Rational Client Support, Asia Pacific

While teaching a KT Resolve workshop in Sydney last week, the recently viral transcript of a Star Trek themed exchange between a Netflix Customer Service Rep and a customer came up in the conversation. This was immediately after I taught Questioning Skills.  I thought it would be a great way in bring IBM’s Values and Practices into the class (specifically "Show Personal Interest”) and shared the transcript with the class. As we read through the dialogue I realized that not only was this loaded with personal interest, it also showed how effective questioning in Situation Appraisal can transition easily into Problem Analysis.  By the end of the exchange we had a very clear understanding of the actual problem. With only 4 questions, this Neflix rep had uncovered enough information for a nearly complete Problem Specification – in 7 minutes!

But first, a brief description of who or what Netflix is, as it is not available world-wide:  Netflix provides on-demand media streaming to a host of internet connected devices.   The bulk of the content is movies and television series – often a whole season of episodes of TV shows will be available.   Parks and Recreation is one of those shows. 

The initial chat:

A bit of banter (showing a personal interest) followed by a nice OPEN question “what seems to be the problem?” He’s kicking off Situation Appraisal and uses the word ‘seems’ to indicate that the concern may or may not be a problem.  

Lt. Norm replies:

“How so, LT?”  is a 'what do you mean by?' question, again very open and designed to clarify "behaving oddly"

Capt’n Mike gets a highly detailed answer:

And with that (and only 4 minutes from the start of the conversation) Mike has a clear Problem Statement (Parks and Recreation in temporal loop.)   It’s a deviation, with unknown cause that he needs to know. He’s ready for PA – and before he even starts to ask PA questions, he already has answers to six IS questions and one IS NOT for his Problem Specification:

The second WHERE (Where on the object?) is worth a brief comment.   “5 minutes after starting the file” is worded as an answer to a “When first in the lifecycle?” type of question.  In this example, I choose to take it literally as it’s reported using the wording “at 5 minutes of operation” which is more like pointing to a place in the file and much more suited to the second WHERE.   It sounds like the third WHEN because it's time based, but it is also a specific location in a file.  In a moment more information about locations in the file will reinforce that the 5 minute mark is an answer to the third WHEN.  

So, Captain Mike goes about gathering IS NOT data with a closed question (to confirm his understanding) yet he asks it in a way that still opens up possibilities (and is a reminder that an effective questioner must be ready for long answers to closed questions.) 

He asks:

A very willing customer who is clearly enjoying his customer support experience is open to share information about the problem.    Mike has enough, a nearly complete problem specification, to escalate this case to the appropriate technician.

I admit that I’m assuming the trend to be stable, I think it’s a fair assumption based on what’s been said, but I do add an NMD (need more data) as a reminder that this needs to be confirmed.

Also note my use of 'stepping' as we drill down on the first WHAT question and then match those steps on the IS NOT side.   NMD is included as we simply do not know that of the thousands of other files on netflix.com that this is the only one - but it is what we know now.  (Speaking of NMD:  the first WHERE will need further data - Where are the Netflix servers?  Which are affected? - these are questions for the Netflix technical staff, not the customer).

But still we are missing the third WHEN question…

Fortunately the customer continues – while this may seem more casual commentary after the fact, there’s still more information provided.  A keen listener (even in text chat) will pick up on the lifecycle information:

Yes it is a horrible place but now we have that lifecycle information.

 

The rest of the conversation is continued personal interest and I’ll leave to click through to the original thread if you would like.

I have no idea if Netflix is using KT Resolve or if Captain Mike has been involved in a KT workshop, however, I do know that every good problem solver uses the same process and I offer this story to you as supporting documentation.  And it’s a fun read too. 

PS:  Captain Mike got to meet Captain Kirk on cable news station HLN.

The KT problem solving approach is used worldwide for root cause analysis and to improve IT stability