How To Use Both/And Thinking To Balance Long-Term Vision With Short-Term Customer Service

Customer experience professionals face countless balancing acts: do you focus on digital or in-person experiences? Employee experience or customer experience? Build out the contact center or move to self-service options?

But perhaps the biggest question is this: Do you focus on long-term strategic vision or short-term customer service?

Wendy Smith, author of BOTH/AND THINKING: Embracing Creative Tensions to Solve Your Toughest Problems, says the answer is in changing from an either/or approach to a both/and way of thinking. Instead of feeling you have to choose just one solution, you can embrace the creative tension of both ideas.

Smith says it starts by changing the question. Instead of asking, “Should we focus on the future or today?” try, “How can we serve customers today and prepare for the future?” Reframing the question moves you from pitting two ideas against each other to finding ways to accommodate both solutions. Both/and thinking opens you to new possibilities and opportunities.

Smith says that asking the right question allows you to find the win-wins or the ideal places where both solutions happen at the same time. Instead of going all in on one idea and forgetting about the other, both/and thinking helps you see new opportunities that embrace both ideas.

But that doesn’t mean the solution will magically appear or be easy. Smith compares it to walking a tightrope. Tightrope walkers have to look to the horizon and keep moving forward. They are always balancing so they don’t go too far in either direction that they fall over. They are balancing, not balanced.

It’s the same in the world of CX. An eye toward the horizon provides vision, and those little steps keep you steady. Smith calls it micro-shifting. You may not find the ultimate win-win that embraces both solutions completely, but you can take small steps on either side. You might take a step with one foot and then the other, just like you may focus on long-term strategy and then short-term service, but embracing both ideas keeps you balancing and moving forward.  

Moving beyond our natural tendency of either/or thinking to both/and opens new ideas and possibilities. The mindset can be applied to all areas of work and life but is especially applicable to making decisions in a complex CX landscape. By changing the question and looking for ways to embrace both ideas, you can find the balance to create long-term strategy and provide great short-term service.


Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist and the bestselling author of The Customer of the FutureFor regular updates on customer experience, sign up for her weekly newsletter here

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