Man’s Inhumanity Towards Man: Shifting the Leadership and Customer Service Paradigm

quote-mans-inhumanity

Recently, I was asked, “What does customer service mean to you?” The question continues to reverberate in my mind. Drawing upon several recent experiences, let’s discuss why customer service continues to be useless, debilitating, and demeaning. Finally, let’s imagine a way forward, a new paradigm for understanding the relationship between people as human beings, customers, and employees, who all deserve the best customer experience we, the professional customer-facers, can provide.

For the record, my wife considers the first example a genuine customer service success and remains a pleased customer. Since the first example concerns both of us, I see the customer service provided as a fail and will explain in greater detail below. According to my wife, this example is a win because of the treatment and ease of concluding her part in the customer service example. This separation of beliefs highlights another reason why voice-of-the-customer surveys (VoC) should not be a knowledge performance indicator (KPI) for service professionals. Service delivery is ambiguous, and as the disconnection between my wife and I represents, service value is in the eye of the beholder.

The first example begins with Amazon.com. The end user received their order for a product (the customer was served), which also contained two items not requested, not ordered, and not paid for (an additional hassle for the customer). The customer service department, at Amazon.com, was consulted and the agent informed the customer, “Since the cost to return the products did not justify shipping the products back to Amazon, the customer could keep the products” with Amazon’s blessing. This is not a good customer service experience for several reasons:

  1. The customer now has to dispose of new products not needed or wanted.
  2. The only justification for not returning the products was the cost, e.g. inconvenience, to Amazon.
  3. The underlying problem, receiving parts not requested, did not come with a solution that served the customer; nor, did the option to keep the parts improve the customer experience.

While the customer-facing agent was kind, considerate, and per the company guidelines acting in all good faith to the customer, in the interests of the company the customer was not served even though a solution was generated and the customer went away. Consider the person who was supposed to receive these parts. They will have to call and either receive a bill credit or the parts need to be shipped, thus delaying the other customer as well as not serving that customer by respecting their time, resources, and honoring the customer’s commitment to using the retailer Amazon.com. With both customers not being served, how can Amazon.com, or any business organization, dare refer to these customer interactions as “service.”

Regarding the next two examples, I am purposefully vague about the entities committing the customer “dis-service” at this moment, for a reason. I do not want distractions, e.g. reader bias, to interrupt or interfere with the focus upon the incidents by naming the organizations. The second example comes from an infamously poor government office that has a reputation for providing poor service to their customer base. The third example comes from a truly infamous retailer who is already struggling but generally has much better customer interactions. The second and third examples’ names will be provided later in this article.

While dealing with a large government entity, both in person and over the phone, three separate and divergent answers to the same problem were received over the period of five different opportunities to assist the customer. By stating this experience happened with a government entity, many people already are presuming the experience was bad. It was, and this is an acceptable and reasonable policy for bureaucrats to exemplify. I disagree most heartily that any government office can produce poor customer interactions and skate by blithely. Since all governments cannot operate without forced taxation, the government entity should be providing better, not worse, customer interactions than those found in the private sector and the need to hold the government to a higher standard is sorely lacking. More to the point, the original problem remains unresolved more than 15-days after the problem was promised a solution within 5-business days. What amazes me the most in this affair is the nonchalance, non-interest, and forthright noncommittal that government employees are allowed, nay encouraged, to get away with in customer interactions with those same taxpayers, who both need help and pay the taxes to keep the government employee employed.

Third, a recent example occurred during this now past holiday season; a customer approached a company representative for directions; the company representative did not have any pressing duties to occupy his/her time and can leave his/her assigned post to aid customers in improving the customer experience. I know this, as I checked with the manager and witnessed the customer service provider playing on a cell phone moments before being asked a question. The company representative gave a broad hand, and arm gestures yelled at the customer and appeared in all appearances to be inconvenienced by the customer’s request for directions. The company’s policy states the company representative is to walk the customer directly to their desired destination and await the customer’s pleasure to return to their original post as the only method to handle this type of service request. When this was brought to the manager’s attention, the manager acted shocked in front of the customer raising the complaint, and then took no action, as the additional action was deemed “not warranted” per the manager’s murmured comments to other employee’s in the vicinity. More to the point, the manager took the opportunity to bad mouth the customer raising the complaint and presented the complaint to other employees, who “snickered” at the language the manager used to describe those making complaints, while falsely thinking the customer who is raising the concerns was not paying attention.

Finally, a recent example from a major fast food franchise, while Burger King as a corporation should not be held accountable for the work the franchise performed, the customer service example remains priceless in showcasing the uselessness of serving the customer and the need for training customer interaction professionals. While using coupons, the customer became confused in the “legal print, ” and the order took longer to place and pay for than normal. The cashier at this point does three things: 1. Assumes the confused customer cannot hear; 2. Bad mouth the confused customer to the next three customers who were waiting patiently; and 3. Blames the customer for taking too long to order their food. Later, the cashier approached the confused customer, blamed the incident on him, offered a faux apology, and walked off muttering about stupid customers not understanding the reality of fast food restaurants.

In the third example, do not be distracted by the poor leadership being presented by the manager. Focus instead on the customer interactions: two different customer experiences, both deemed “acceptable customer service” by the powers that control the experiences. Neither customer was served nor was the problems solved. The first customer found a more helpful company representative who followed the company policy, and the second customer interaction with the manager only strengthened the customer’s resolve to continue to avoid the retailer. Two opportunities to grow a new relationship, enhance a new paradigm upon the customer, and promote goodwill and loyalty with the local customer base were missed. Customer interactions can and should be held to a higher standard, and the following defines my position that focusing solely on customer service is useless along with steps to improve.

Focusing solely on “serving the customer” is useless as all the customer receives is a meeting of their stated needs. In the third example, the customer received directions; thus, the customer’s need was met, and service was provided. In the first and second examples, the customer needed information and a plan of action to overcome the situation experienced. Even if the work resulted in the customer needing to take more action, the customer was “technically” served. In the fourth example, the confused customer received his food, was able to use a coupon, and was thus “served.” Is it apparent that merely serving the customer is useless?

The service to the customer, while technically meeting the customer’s needs, remains not just poor but pointless; all because the focus of the organization is honed to simply provide “service” or meet the customer’s stated need at the lowest cost, the fastest interaction, and the least amount of effort for the company and those employed to provide customer service. Sometimes all that is wanted by the customer is to resolve the problem quickly and efficiently and courteously and move forward with their lives. This is yet another reason why freedom is needed in customer interactions to serve as needed for each customer making contact. Customer facing professionals deserve better from their leadership than simply “providing service to customers.” Customer facing professionals need leadership, guidance, and freedom to develop the rapport necessary to shine their personal, professional pride into the customer interaction, all with the intent of not merely “serving a customer’s needs,” but providing opportunities for the customer to be motivated to brag about their unique customer experience.

In practice, the following steps should be the underlying governing principles to move from service to professional pride.

  1. No matter the method for customer interaction, make the time to show genuine interest in the customer. This will require making conversation, employing reflective listening techniques to ensure mutual understanding of the customer’s position, and representing the company with professional pride. For the customer-facing employees to show pride in the company the company leaders need to ensure the “What” and the “Why” is known to the employees’ so the employee can exemplify the “What” and the “Why” to customers. Leadership is key to communicating with a purpose and promoting the spirit of reflective listening in an organization. Make the connection of mutual understanding and most of the customer problems shrink in size.
    1. Active listening is good, but it doesn’t make the grade anymore.
    2. Reflective listening is all about making sure mutual understanding has been achieved.
    3. Mutual understanding provides one interaction resolution, goes beyond simple servicing needs, and displays the pride and professionalism of the company’s commitment to customer interactions.
    4. Reflective listening can be employed in voice, email, instant message, and face-to-face customer interactions and reflects an easily attained step up from only actively listening.
  2. Promote the customer experience by not differentiating between external and internal customers, treat them all as valuable customers deserving attention, focus, eye contact, and validation that their concern is justified and worthy of attention. Act in a manner that the customer deserves the best, and the spirit of customer interactions will infuse all the customers with a commonality of desire, hope, and professionalism. As a customer interaction professional, how much better do you offer superior interactions with customers when you, receive excellent customer interactions from the company you spend time representing?
  3. Remember to make the human connection in human interactions. Using reflective listening, focus on the clues, the body language, the tone of voice, and acknowledge these communication streams through competent action. For example, if the customer is perceived as stressed and is speaking in a clipped and hurried manner, respond kindly, but through accurate and speedy action acknowledging the customer’s stress and meeting the customer’s need by respecting their time. Human interactions are improved through human connections that reflect respect and that embody this principle in every human interaction, and the customer-facing employee becomes a customer’s hero. Using the information above, are we not all customer-facing employees; yes, we certainly are!
  4. Freedom to think and act in the interest of the customer, based upon sound critical thinking skills, is exemplified at the time of the interaction without second-guessing after the interaction. This happens more often in call centers, but every customer-facing employee has had this occur to them. At the moment, the decision appeared the best course of action, but after the interaction/interference of a manager or a quality assurance (QA) employee has second-guessed and provided “advice” that does not provide value to future customer interactions, doubt is planted removing confidence in acting appropriately in the future. Does this mean allowing poor judgment to survive? Absolutely not; it does mean that the “advice” needs to model and reflect value for future decisions, not cast aspersions upon the previous decisions.
  5. SMART Training. Everyone knows the axiom for SMART Goals; training should also embody the principles of and reflect SMART, “Specific, Measurable, Applicable, Realistic, and Timely.” If the training does not meet SMART levels, the training is not valuable to the persons receiving the training. Make the training SMART, and the potential for improving professionalism in customer interactions grows exponentially.
  6. Never stop learning, never stop reaching, and never stop growing. How often does training cease for employees after the new hire training concludes? How is a new employee supposed to meet the demands of a constantly changing customer population without ongoing training? More specifically, should managers, team leaders, directors, VP’s, and the C-Level leaders also continue to learn and receive training in their positions, roles, and company? If the front-line customer-facing employees need constant refresher training, then every customer-facing employee needs constant refresher training that meets the SMART training guidelines and provides value to the individual using that training.
  7. Stop wasting resources on unproductive goals, e.g., serving customers with excellence. Serving customers, even with “excellence,” remains a useless and wasteful activity; eradicate the term “customer service” from the company vernacular and memory. Begin by realizing the opportunity provided in customer interactions to grow the business, supporting customer interactions through reflective listening where mutual understanding is the goal, and by acting upon the mutual understanding achieved.

We, the professional customer-facing providers, can and should be able to onboard these principles and lead the eradication efforts to remove customer service from our focus and professional labels. The importance of not serving the customer, but elevating the customer interaction, cannot be understated. The customer experience needs to be elevated with reflective listening and prompt action to mutual understanding and a sense of mutual growth as partners in using the company’s products and services. The customer is too important to continue to waste resources only to serve. Make the opportunity to deliver and elevate, and the bottom-line will take care of itself abundantly. The organization in the second example is the Department of Veteran Affairs. The organization in the third example is Target.

quote-mans-inhumanity-2

© 2017 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved – Image Copyrights used under Fair Use and are not included in the authors copyrighted materials.  AZ Quotes retains image copyrights.

In Defense of the Rule of Law – Restoring “… Liberty and Justice for All”

This letter is pertinent to every American citizen as well as those currently holding public office and those seeking to become politicians. Politics has always been an American passion; we talk politics at work with co-workers, across the fence with neighbors, around the kitchen table with family and trusted friends, and almost everywhere else without exception…including public restrooms. Yes, Americans even discuss politics in public restrooms. Conversations overheard and notes written on walls provide plenty of evidence. This is apt; much of the political theater currently thrust into America’s attention is fit only for flushing.

President Lincoln is quoted thus: “Let every American, every lover of Liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their abuse by others. As the Patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor; let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear [down] the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the [Constitutional] laws [of America]… become the political religion of the nation.”

President Lincoln continued on to proclaim, “When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made, I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed.” The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume I, “Address Before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois” (January 27, 1838), p. 112.

Americans inherently seem to know right from wrong. Living in a Republic is messy and loud. Yet, from the clamoring on two extreme points, fairness, justice, and mercy continue to stand in the common argument for the regulation of society to ultimately benefit all. Since Americans inherently know right from wrong and are generally just and merciful, the most contemptible actions a politician can make is to forget, upon election, he/she must serve all his/her constituents, not only the political party he/she personally adheres to and represents. This contemptible action, witnessed in many past and current political scandals, simultaneously displayed the actions taken at every level of government from the dogcatcher and school board locally to the president’s office federally. For example, President Obama’s decision to hire Arne Duncan as United States Secretary of Education, the multiplicity of “Czar” appointments, the VA scandal across America, the IRS debacle and the continuing saga this represents, and much more, on both sides of the political aisle, all find their roots in the failure to adhere to the rule of law. Supporting a personal political party’s leanings over the rule of law causes all of America to suffer grievously.

Districts elect their politicians, and an elected politician has only one job, which is to represent the citizens, all citizens of this great Republic, at the level of office elected. This means that the higher in political office, the broader the constituent base, and the higher the public’s trust, and hence the more closely the politician must walk in honoring, obeying, and upholding the laws of the land. If the politician’s first waking breath is not commitment to equality under the law and obedience to America’s Constitutional Law, as described by President Lincoln above, he/she is a charlatan, a hoax, a fraudster, and needs removal from holding a position of public trust. More to the point, failure to honor the elected responsibility to constituents is, by law, criminal negligence and warrants a court of action convened in the form of a public hearing held forthwith to determine status of guilt and accountability under the law for failure to uphold the public trust.

Rugged individuals founded America for people who love Liberty. To love Liberty means fair play and equality under the law as the basic and fundamental building block of society. If an individual personally is unable to tolerate individual liberty, that individual remains free to leave America’s shores and find a more suitable place to live among the other nations on Earth.

Too many people in America have failed to embrace personal liberty for their neighbors; thus, compromising personal liberty for themselves and fundamentally jeopardizing liberty for every American. President Lincoln could not have been plainer on this point, and the extreme examples of the last 20+ years on the Federal, State, and Local government levels are obvious. America is in danger not from without, e.g. terrorism, war, etc., but from within, e.g. politicians, who fail to uphold equality under American Constitutional Law and honor the rule of America’s law. The axiom continues to verify itself, “The wise man in the storm does not pray for deliverance from the storms without, but the storms within.” Direct application of hope, faith, and trust dispels fear as a storm within. If a politician holds a position of public trust, people have placed upon him/her their hope and faith that he/she will honor the rule of law for the benefit of all peoples, not simply those who helped him/her become elected.

A particular point of contention generates with “Special Interest Groups.” Special interest groups do not the full population represent; hence, the reason and label of “Special Interests.” Special interest groups are not capable of representing all the population or they would be called “General Interest Groups,” and not every person in America can be represented by such narrow thinking on any issue, let alone the big issues, e.g. abortion rights, religion, immigration, education, etc. Because “Special Interest Groups” do not represent the full population, limiting special interests, disclosing fully special interest funding sources, and issuing complete disclosure of the reason that particular special interest is pushing a specific legislative agenda are key factors. During the Obamacare debates, in full spectacle of the world, America learned a valuable lesson on the need for full disclosure on special interests. Special interest groups intensely supported, as political favors for the benefit of one political group over all others, software that never lived up to the hype and wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. This decision represented a deleterious action full of contempt for the rule of law rather than equal opportunity under the law for all persons. Anytime public money is used to issue a political favor, public trust is breached, the rule of law flouted, and the need for removal from office necessitated; then such persons are held accountable, along with those politically rewarded, in a court of law, and the public’s money is recovered.

The use of public funds in issuing political favors includes employment. Since public employees necessarily receive their wages from public money, politicians breach the public trust should they hire, as a reward for political favors and the public deserves their money back. Kevin Jennings is a specific example; President Obama, through Arne Duncan while in the office of Secretary of Education, hired Jennings as a “Safe Schools Czar.” Duncan knew Jennings would remain a prominent and outspoken member of the LGBTQ agenda through Jennings’ history with GLSEN, as well as a previous executive director for the group and an admirer of Harry Hays of NAMBLA. It seems particularly ironic that to achieve greater public support, under the leadership of Jennings the group GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) changed its name (1997) from the Gay & Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network (GLISTN). His hire represents a significant breach of public trust as a pusher of the LGBTQ agenda. His role in government put him squarely into a position to coerce America’s Public Schools into becoming breeding grounds for the homosexual agenda instead of bastions for learning. Americans felt abhorred that someone who peddles in pedophilia was now in charge of making schools safer. For the record, anytime a legally recognized adult promotes sex with children under the age of legal majority is committing, or aiding in, the crime of pedophilia. By promoting books on adult/children sex, creating book lists and learning platforms promoting this deviant behavior, Jennings has aided and abetted, at the very least, pedophilia in America’s schools. While claiming success due to President Obama’s assistance, the LGBTQ Agenda became “anti-bullying” at a conference hosted by the White House with President Obama being the keynote speaker.

An investment of public money through employment for the political reward of a constituent is what landed Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois in prison. What put him in prison is and continues to be called, “Pay-to-Play.” Investing in a politician that leads to a reward, e.g. employment, with the ability to “play” with the laws of the land remains despicable and worthy of criminal charges with a public trial for all persons in the chain of decision-making; yes, this includes President Obama.

Rest assured politicians can hire whom they choose, but they must do so ever cognizant of the moral fiber and ethical standards of those hired, and the public trust invested through both the voting booth and tax dollars. Kevin Jennings never showed the slightest inclination to support the rule of law or equality under the law for all people. In fact, many of his friends and associates continue to believe that if a person does not think in a similar manner to themselves, that person needs to be destroyed politically, personally, and professionally, this is also referred to as being “Bork[ed].” Represented and exemplified through the actions of such supporters in the removal of Inspector Generals in the Federal Government at large, the changes specifically within the Department of Education, and the cover-ups in the IRS and VA scandals were all designed to hide truth from the American public. This is dangerous ground for America and represents terrorism at the most fundamental level, the terrorism of thought leading to action while holding a position of public trust paid for by public funds. By using the threat of government action to intimidate, coerce, and force societal change, many in government, like Jennings, are committing terrorist acts.

As the elections of 2016 draw near, this missive belongs to the politicians currently holding office as well as those hoping to hold public office: please uphold the rule of law. Please come out in full and unequivocal support of the rule of law and the liberty of all as the only hope for saving America, even if this means people suffer from the consequences of their poor individual decisions. Embrace the rule of America’s Constitutional law. Taxpayers, as represented by their collective elected officials colloquially known as government, cannot and should never be forced to pay for bad personal decisions with public money. Government is not a charitable organization. Hence, government cannot and should not be investing public money in abortion clinics, drug rehab clinics, and other consequences for poor personal decisions. Charitable and religious organizations are sufficient to this task and public money needs investing elsewhere, e.g. providing for the common defense, ensuring free trade among the states, reducing the debt, or lowering taxes, etc.

Stand for the absolute rule of law and America wins. Failure to stand for the rule of law and America loses, utterly and completely. With the failure to stand for the rule of law, politicians elected and trusted by their constituents, who transform themselves into being inadequate to the task to perform according to law. Their names are thence cast upon the dung heaps of history as charlatans and unpitied betrayers of the struggle to keep America the “…shining city on a hill,” full of “…liberty and justice for all.”

 

© 2015 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved