5 Customer Service Lessons from American Ninja Warrior

5 Customer Service Lessons from American Ninja Warrior

As we close out season 7 of American Ninja Warrior this evening, I thought it would be fun to talk about Ninja Warrior and customer service.

5 Customer Service Lessons from American Ninja Warrior

The Ninja Warrior competition has a number of parallels to frontline customer service.

For one, the course is ever-changing. The different obstacles require a number of different skill sets, and reps have to quickly shift between skills in a rapidly changing environment.

Also, each day is different, and a situation you have succeeded with in the past is the one that can take you out. And worst of all, the better you get — the farther you go — the harder it gets to succeed.

So, let’s take a look at 5 customer service lessons from American Ninja Warrior.

#1 Know Your Speed Limit

American Ninja Warriors need great balance, and among the most important skills is finding the balance between speedy and careless. Too slow, and you may not advance to the next round. Too fast, and you may make a fatal error.

With customers, slow is almost never a positive; however, rushing can create costly errors. Giving an answer without all of the facts, promising deadlines that can’t be met, and rushing to enter data are all ways that going too fast can produce an unwanted result.

In customer service, speed needs to be just right.

#2 Never Get Too Comfortable

If speed is so dangerous, then why do some Ninjas rush the course? Often the cause is pride, but underlying that pride is almost always overconfidence. Participants get too comfortable. They want the vanity metric of finishing first, and they rush it. Such was the fate of Flip Rodriguez in Season 6 and frontrunner Elet Hall last week.

In customer service, getting too comfortable can manifest itself in numerous ways. A frontline rep lets her guard down when talking with a customer and crosses the line into unprofessional behavior. A rep gets comfortable with a process and rushes through or fails to double check his work.

Comfortable is good. Too comfortable is not.

Why? Because…

#3 The Smallest Misstep Can Have Big Consequences

In American Ninja Warrior, one misplaced foot, one rope grabbed too low, and you can find yourself in the water faster than an NBC producer can say “cut to Kacy.” (If you’re a fan of the show, you know what I’m talking about.)

Similarly, little mistakes in customer experiences can have big consequences. The extra few seconds taken to verify a delivery address can save hours of time later. The few moments it takes to glance at the customer’s purchase order can save thousands of dollars of lost business.

Understanding the downstream effect of small missteps can prevent negative customer experiences that hurt both customers and company alike.

#4 You Aren’t Equally Strong Everywhere

Like customer service reps, Ninja competitors have varying backgrounds and skill sets. Some are gymnasts, others rock climbers, and others track stars — as such, certain obstacles tend to favor certain skill sets.

Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front LinesCustomer service is no different.

You can be good at creating happy experiences but have a tough time with an angry customer. You can let criticism roll off your back but have a terrible time staying organized and focused.

Most Ninjas know where they are weak and where they are strong, and they adapt their game (as much as possible) accordingly. Frontline reps should have a similar awareness and make an effort to accent the strengths and mitigate the weaknesses.

They still have to make it past every obstacle, but they might approach them differently with the right amount of self-awareness.

#5 You Can Never Prepare for Every Situation

All Ninja Warriors possess the following skills in varying degrees — endurance, strength, and agility — but the best Ninja Warriors possess the one essential skill for course success: adaptability.

No matter how hard Ninjas train, no matter what their background, they can never completely prepare for the Ninja Warrior course. While certain obstacles are consistent, the course changes every year, and competitors must take the principles they have learned and adapt them on the fly.

Training is key. The more scenarios you can prepare your frontline reps for, the better prepared they will be to adapt that training to situations they have not encountered before.

In customer service, no day is the same but many days are similar. You can’t prepare frontline teams for every eventuality, but you can teach them a wide variety of skills and help them embrace the flexibility and adaptability needed to succeed.

Like American Ninja Warrior, customer service is an ever-changing landscape of obstacles and opportunities. Fortunately, in customer service, we have one advantage that Ninja Warriors rarely ever get: most of the time, we often get another chance after we make a misstep.

In American Ninja Warrior, second chances are few and far between.

Photo Credit: Original Photo from NBC 


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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