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Tales from the Front Line

Optimize Blog - January 19, 2015 - 0 comments

Too many customer service excellence and customer-centricity culture initiatives end up feeling to employees like they’ve been arbitrarily imposed from on high, usually by the CEO and a bunch of consultants.
Clearly any such initiative requires a sponsor and in all cases the CEO has to decide that this is the direction in which the company is going to move. However we think that some bottom up buy in wouldn’t go amiss and after all, the people in the proverbial trenches, quite literally, are the face and voice of your company. Your customer centricity hopes live and die with them!
Too many cultural change initiatives are imposed rather than pursued collaboratively with employees – those tasked with delivering the promise dreamed up by the marketing guys rarely get to provide input. Now, we are not saying that the front line troops necessarily have the ability to coral resources or develop corporate budgets for wide ranging corporate initiatives and we are certainly not saying that accountability for corporate direction and strategy does not lie with the leadership team. What we are saying is that perhaps it is rather foolish not to tap into front line service providers if you want to know how best to improve your customer service.
So if we do decide to collaborate a bit on the subject, what might be an argument for doing so?
Firstly we think that employees who were asked might have better buy-in to the whole initiative if they felt that it was “their” project or partially their project, not somebody else’s latest brain wave after having read an article in “Business Weekly”. After all, without their buy-in they’ll just ride out this latest fad as they did with Six Sigma, the Borderless Organization, BHAG and some thoughts on who stole their cheese……
Secondly, employees have so much to offer in providing insight into the nuances and subtleties of the implementation. As good as a consultant is, they will never truly be the inside perspective. They will not understand the idiosyncrasies of how each job actually needs to be performed or understand those little “inefficient” touches that the customers appreciate that need to be preserved.
Third, the employees usually know about the elephant or elephants skulking in the corner of the room. We’re not sure if it is possible for an elephant to skulk but you get our meaning no doubt. The leadership team of course wouldn’t recognize the elephant if it came and sat on them. The elephant we are concerned with is the one causing the organization to fail in its attempts to be customer-centric.
This might be the fact that being customer-centric costs money and there is no budget. It may be that leadership is measuring everything but customer centricity. Maybe that incentives are focused on KPI’s that have no bearing on the customer experience. Perhaps the company is hiring poorly and populating the front line with idiots or that expensive IT systems are overly complicated and work against providing the service the customers demand.
Too many organizations make bold statements of intent with little or no understanding of what is truly required to become customer centric. Alternatively they adopt some ‘latest management thinking’ and go for a home run based on hope or perhaps some voodoo. But there are no short-cuts and in fact the answer is somewhat more simple.
Take some time to understand what is truly happening on the front line and what the customer actually wants as a critical first step. This can only be achieved by collaborating with those employees that live it first-hand. What an organization needs before it starts on a customer centric initiative is a brutally honest and frank description of what goes on in the interaction between customer and company. Assuming the leadership knows or just guessing isn’t going to cut it. Find out what it is like from the people fighting the fight.
Only when the organization has a true understanding from the trenches, can a plan of action be developed to take advantage of the identified opportunities and to fix the areas of discontent amongst the customers.
Keep it simple. Don’t fall for the hype. Customer centricity starts with getting back to basics.

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