• October 18, 2004
  • By Lior Arussy, founder and president, Strativity Group

The Disappearing Act

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When we wake up in the morning we are customers: We brush our teeth--we are customers of the toothpaste company. We get dressed--we are customers of the clothing companies. When we drive our cars we are customers, as well. But then a transformation occurs. Just as we enter our offices we drop the customer mind-set and assume a new one: We become executives. We stop thinking like customers. Throughout the day we completely forget about the customers' feelings and concerns. Then at 6 p.m., as we leave the office, a reverse transformation takes place. Our executive mind-set disappears and reverts to the customer mind-set. As people who are in charge of pleasing customers, we should be well trained to know and understand their needs. Instead, we find ourselves again and again puzzled by customers' needs, and we fail to address them. Unlike other jobs where the practitioners cannot assume the role of the recipient, we should have natural training. We are all customers. A cardiologist might never really know and feel the pain of her patient. The firefighter may never fully understand the impact of losing all of his belongings in a fire. Customer practitioners, on the other hand, receive daily training in the form of service from other vendors. They are very well acquainted with what constitutes unacceptable service. They have a clear idea of what it means to please and exceed their expectations. So, why is it that we do not apply this knowledge and understanding to our executive decisions, and make the right decisions for our customers? We need only make the same decisions we wish our vendors would make for us. Often executives make decisions based on corporate restrictions and requirements. They may face a situation in which their hands are tied and they cannot do the right thing for the customer. They often know what the right decision is, but instead they make the very same offer they would flatly reject if asked of themselves as customers. Processes and guidelines often conflict with managers' common sense. These processes may be efficient and cost-effective, but they are created without the customers in mind and are not designed to retain customers in the long run. Before companies rush to declare the customer-centric program du jour, they need to stop and take a serious look at their own processes and procedures. They will often find that they send conflicting messages to their employees and managers. On the company walls a poster of a smiling customer will call for sensitivity and commitment, while training and compensation dictate an entirely different focus. This conflicting situation forces employees to represent and defend procedures they do not believe in. Therefore the first act of a customer-focused business model is not another big promise--it's to untangle confusing corporate guidelines: Unbind the hands of employees and managers, and allow them to do what they naturally want to do and believe is right. Eradicating the internal conflict faced by employees and managers will go a long way towards delivering customer-centric service. Simplifying processes, removing conflicts, and providing consistent guidelines is the first order of business needed to get closer to customers. As customers themselves employees know what needs to be done--but they need corporate guidance and support to do it. Allowing employees to be customers all day long will release a new way of treating and delighting customers. There is no better way to forge a lasting, profitable connection than by freeing employees to do what is right. Lior Arussy is president of Strativity Group and author of The Experience! Arussy can be reached at lior@strativitygroup.com
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