A 15 minute interactive lesson with Prof. Srikant Datar

Changing Perspective at T-Mobile

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Section 1 of 11

In this free lesson, we will explore the importance of problem framing to innovation.

Srikant Datar, the Dean of Harvard Business School, uses puzzles in the classroom to demonstrate how cognitive fixedness can prevent us from achieving insight and developing new problem framings.


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Insight occurs when we recombine knowledge—the maps in our brains—in a new way. Whether you are solving a puzzle or a complex business problem, the experience of insight is the same.

To learn how insight can support an innovative business strategy, let’s briefly explore the case of American wireless operator T-Mobile. In the video below, CEO Mike Sievert discusses the situation in 2012, and the strategy T-Mobile adopted for its turnaround.

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will be different clip—included for illustration purposes only

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T-Mobile’s new strategy was based on attracting and retaining customers.

This meant approaching old problems in a new way.

For example, prior to a management change-up in 2012, T-Mobile’s performance measures for customer-service interactions were framed by questions of operational efficiency, such as “How might we resolve customer queries over the phone as quickly as possible?”

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How could you reframe the problem of customer-service performance measurement to focus on the new strategy of customer satisfaction and growing market share? Beginning with the phrase “How might we…” is a helpful cue, so we started you off.

Peer responses

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Section 7 of 11
Section 7 of 11
video tk—Mike Sievert

one of the insights we had early on around customer service was that all the wrong things were being measured in this industry. And if we're honest, in most industries.
[00:27:25.39] Things like how much does it cost us? How fast did we get off the phone? How little did we give to the customer? How efficient can we be in taking those calls and getting those calls completed and done with and get on with the next one? Things like call handle time. Things like credits and adjustment sizing, those kinds of things.
[00:27:47.14] When ultimately, what matters when it comes to measuring a customer service operation is, are we being efficacious when it comes to things like, are we making our customers happy? Are our actions causing them to stay with us longer? Are our actions causing customers to deepen their relationships with us?
[00:28:06.26] And of course there's a cost component. Is it costing the customer and us less and less effort over time to have a happy relationship with T-Mobile? Those are the four things that really matter. And we said, what if those were the things we measured in a customer experience operation?
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Changing the problem framing is important because it helps you generate ideas that might have seemed off-limits in a more traditional approach.

If you always approach a problem from the same perspective, you will inevitably generate the same kinds of solutions.


Innovative problem framings have one or more of the following characteristics:

For T-Mobile, the original problem framing was “How might we resolve customer queries over the phone as quickly as possible?”

Framings such as these would cause teams to search for new pain points and generate less conventional solutions:

  • “How might we make our customers happy?” (Emotional, broad)
  • “How might we deepen our customers’ relationship with us?” (Dynamic, broad)

One innovative solution was the “Team of Experts.”

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Section 9 of 11
video tk—Mike Sievert

if we really need to understand, are our concrete actions making customers happy and causing them to stay longer and deepen their relationship with us, then we have to have a cohort of customers where we can measure that overall customer basis performance. And Team of Experts was born on that basic insight. You get what you measure in business, and what we want to measure is, is our customer experience operation making people happy?
[00:28:47.35] And so the idea here is that, when you call, your call is routed to your team every time. And we capture whatever your problem is without any transfers, without any robots, and we solve it. And then we measure. Did you stay? Are you happier?
suddenly the incentives of these teams and their manager-- let's picture a 40-person team with a manager who's in charge of a base of customers, making them happy, making sure they stay with us and that they deepen their relationship with us and they tell other people about us, and that it takes them less and less effort to have that happy relationship. That's something we can measure. And it's a totally different way of thinking about it, and it's really about managing that customer's journey with us over time.
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For T-Mobile, reframing the organization’s challenges in broader and more emotional ways created the room for solutions like the Team of Experts. To develop more innovative ideas in your own organization, consider adjusting your perspective so that new ideas and new customer pain points can become the focus of discussion.

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Section 11 of 11
video tk

[01:01:32.18] MIKE SIEVERT: One of the big ironies of our industry is that we have simultaneously the most intimate relationship you could ever hope for, and also a pretty silent relationship with our customers. And what I mean is, think about this. Our customers, tens of millions of them, carry our product, their connection, with them in their pocket literally everywhere they go. That's a dream when it comes to having a relationship.
[01:01:58.25] But it's not the carrier they're thinking about. It's not the person providing that connection that they're thinking about. We have to create that ongoing relationship. Even though we're being carried around in that customer's pocket literally everywhere they go all day, unless we're there with repeatable connections, they can forget why they love us and they can forget that they have a relationship with us at all.

[01:02:49.67] The delight that came the first time you called us and there was no IVR, that robot that talks to you, it was just answered by a person, and it's a person who uniquely serves a small group of customers that you're a part of, that was mind blowing. And so there's this repetition in a relationship that's important.
[01:03:13.83] But there's also a delight. The idea of surprising people with something they weren't expecting, like an instant connection to a real rep who genuinely understands the circumstances of your local market. That's powerful and it's different.