I’m thankful for the lessons in attentiveness and initiative that my parents patiently taught me. They’re applicable in every aspect of life, including designing effective user and customer experiences.

Just do it.

“Did you notice anything,” my mom asked as I left the kitchen. Ten-year-old me stopped, turned, and scanned the room.

“No,” I reluctantly offered. Her eyes gazed towards the sink and then back at me. There were a few dirty dishes, including a bowl I had just added to the pile. “The dishes,” I said, dragging my feet and motivation towards them.

She nodded and repeated the same instruction I heard nearly every day, “If you see something that needs to be done, do it.”

My parents instilled in me some core principles at an early age. These weren’t innate or genetic. They are skills that need to be taught. I recently heard Blake Mycoskie on Rich Roll’s Podcast describe this as the difference between hardware and software. You’re born into the world with ‘hardware,’ but your parents and the surrounding environment install the ‘software.’

The story about the dishes is representative of a kind of interaction I would regularly have with my parents as a kid. Whether the task was doing dishes even if they aren’t yours, taking out the trash if you see it’s full, folding laundry if you see a pile of clean clothes waiting, or moving something off the driveway when you know someone is about to pull in.

These are all lessons in paying attention, anticipating future needs, taking initiative, and being proactive. Even as a kid, my parents expected me to contribute to our home. There was little tolerance for situational ignorance, much less boredom.

After being instructed to do something like clean the dishes or fold laundry, the inevitable next statement would be: “Don’t wait to be asked to do something you can notice on your own.”

Any complaint of boredom would be met with the response: “If you can’t find something to do, I’ll help you.”

I think about things like this more now that I have a kid. My daughter isn’t even a year old yet, but I know that when she’s older I will instill in her the same principles. Situational awareness and initiative are foundational traits for any path in life. The ability to think a few steps ahead supports better decision-making.

These are also principles I bring into my work as a strategist. I solve complex customer and business problems around processes and technology. To address the root cause of issues, it takes stopping to notice the current environment, listening to a range of perspectives, and acting.

For example, anticipation and proactivity are critical customer service tenets. In real life, this looks like mitigating negative events for customers — or even eliminating them before they occur.

In The Effortless Experience, the authors introduced the concept of Next Issue Avoidance (NIA), which is now used by a growing number of customer service teams to help them predict likely problems. NIA is a tactic that is tied to the increasingly popular KPI, Customer Effort Score (CES).

According to Gartner, “Companies practicing next issue avoidance dramatically reduce the likelihood of another 3- to 5-minute phone call (with an upset customer, no less) by taking an extra 15 to 30 seconds to simply forewarn the customer.”

Think about that. When companies use the lessons we are taught as kids to improve their service teams, they save more money and retain more customers. Creating good customer or user experiences doesn’t have to be complicated.

The Childhood Lesson That Can Improve Customer Experiences