If you have worked in customer service long enough, you have likely had that one co-worker that talks way too much to customers, making suggestions that end up creating more work for co-workers regardless of the initial needs of the client.

Overview: What is the O’Brien Effect?

The O’Brien Effect refers to the waste that is created from speaking to a customer and making suggestions that fall outside of what the client actually needs.

3 drawbacks of the O’Brien Effect

There are some major drawbacks to the O’Brien Effect that should not be overlooked:

1. Creates needless work

One major drawback of the O’Brien Effect is that it creates needless work for yourself and your co-workers. By not listening to the needs of the customer and instead making alternative suggestions or upselling, you are taking what could potentially be a simple transaction and overcomplicating it. This could mean more work for you and your coworkers to fulfill things that have nothing to do with the customer’s actual needs or requirements.

2. Wastes resources

Spending a lot of time talking to a customer about things that are outside of their needs can be a major waste of time for both you and the client. That time could be better spent by you doing things that are actually beneficial to your work. It also ends up wasting other work resources to fulfill an order that is outside the needs of the client.

3. It may sour relationships

Too many instances of the O’Brien Effect can sour relationships with your co-workers as well as with your customers. Your co-workers will likely grow tedious with the wasted time spent recommending items to the customer that they do not truly need or want, which winds up creating more work for them. Customers may no longer want to deal with you as they could wind up feeling dissatisfied since they are not receiving what they actually came to you for.

Why is the O’Brien Effect important to understand?

The O’Brien Effect is important to understand for the following reasons:

Non-value-added tasks

One of the most important things you can do for your customers is to provide value. Understanding the O’Brien Effect will help prevent you from adding non-value-added tasks.

Maintaining a positive workplace

Having an understanding of the O’Brien Effect can help you address it if you spot it in your workplace. The O’Brien Effect can be detrimental to employee morale and can strip positivity from the work environment.

Controlling the work environment

Understanding the O’Brien Effect can help you understand that if the originator cannot help themselves but continues to cause it, then they should likely be put in a position where they do not have direct interaction with clientele.

An industry example of the O’Brien Effect

A trophy company has several accounts with little league baseball teams throughout the company. Every season, when it is time for the managers of the teams to come in and put in their orders, one employee takes the orders and consistently tries to upsell with extra details added to the trophies that have nothing to do with what the customers are asking for. More often than not, the customer sticks to their original order, but every season there are a few managers that go with the suggestions made by the employee. This causes tremendous frustration with the co-workers since they have to do a lot of extra work putting together these frivolous orders during a busy time of the year. It has also led to losing some clients. Online reviews show that these clients have felt that they were talked into paying more money for extras that they did not want or need. The owner of the company is considering letting this employee go in order to put an end to the O’Brien Effect in the organization.

3 best practices when thinking about the O’Brien Effect

If there is a possibility that you might be causing the O’Brien Effect in your organization, take the time to utilize these practices as preventative measures:

1. Listen to the customer

It is key to take the time to genuinely listen to the customers and learn what they actually need. If need be, practice not offering anything beyond what the customer specifically states that they need.

2. Think of your team

Show empathy towards your team members and think about how they will feel about taking on unnecessary work.

3. Do the math

Think about how much extra work the added workload is costing your company. Also, think about the amount of time you are spending on unnecessary work that is not actually adding value to your organization or to the customer. The time that you are spending with a customer suggesting add-ons that do not actually add value is also costing your company money since you are not focusing on activities that provide value to your organization.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the O’Brien Effect

What can cause an originator to create the environment that leads to the O’Brien Effect?

There is a theory that the person who creates the situation that leads to the O’Brien Effect does so out of a desire to have a greater degree of control in their work life.

What does SWTC stand for?

SWTC is an acronym that stands for Speaking Without Thinking of the Consequences.

What is a UDE?

This acronym stands for Undesirable Effect.

Avoid the O’Brien Effect

Avoiding the O’Brien Effect is paramount to maintaining good relationships with your team and customers. It is also important not to add waste. If you are a team leader and see conditions occurring that could lead to this effect, find a way to address them immediately. If you are potentially the originator of the effect, practice interacting with customers in a way that does not lead to going outside of the client’s needs.
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