Over the years I have written about quite a few organisations. Roughly half of these have been exceptional performers – ones that I feel should be heralded as exemplars to the rest of us. The other half have also been exemplars, but ones that I hope (no, make that desperately hope) none of us will emulate.
When you run a business you tend to focus on delivering something and certainly don’t spend too long basking in the glory of knowing that you do it well or reflecting gloomily on your inability. Instead, you just get on with it, and when someone comes along who is upset or angry with you, the natural tendency is either to listen intently and take it all to heart, or to dismiss them as cranks, depending usually on your own state of mind.
I rarely come across organisations that can deal well with upset or angry customers. It seems to me that these customers, who are reduced to tears by your performance, deserve your concern and, in turn, you need to listen to them to find out whether their experience is unique or systemic. Not doing so, should be the recipe for a short-lived enterprise. Sadly, there are many more factors at play and there are organisations around who have successfully ripped off their customers year-in, year-out. Nevertheless, I keep on trying to point out the error of their ways in the hope that one day they’ll be prepared to listen.
While some upset customers may simply be angry souls with no-one else to vent their feelings towards (and no-one helping them find its source), they nontheless provide a window into your organisation that it helps to look through from time-to-time.
Talking of windows on the organisation, many both in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors these days, try to gather information about their customers’ experiences of them. It’s comparatively easy to set up surveys online or to employ call centres in far flung parts of the world to call and collect the numbers. But numbers have their limitations. If I was working in a supermarket, at an online insurance brokers, in a garage, or a coffee-shop, knowing that 79.1% of customers rated their experience on their last visit as ‘expected or better than expected’, it wouldn’t really give me a warm glow of satisfaction!
Instead, I want to urge you to think of doing something radical – create your own window onto the organisation. I’d like to suggest that YOU (yes YOU the boss) go out and meet a handful of your customers. Be brave – go for a dozen. I’d like to suggest that you take a laptop and a webcam and point it at them when you talk to them. Find out what they like about the experience of working with your organisation. What they think of the people who serve them. Whether there have been any particularly positive encounters and what the story was behind it. Sure you can ask them for the disasters too, but it’s the positives I’d like you to capture.
Then go back to the office and get someone to upload the highlights of those conversations to the company intranet. Not in some obscure place, but right there bang in the middle of the front of the intranet home page. And let your folks hear for themselves what GOOD looks like to your customers.
Now here’s the rub… Once you have done this, I’m going to ask you to ask your direct reports (yes, that does mean those six digit salary Directors) to do exactly the same.
Of course, I realise that you don’t often actually have to deal with customers yourself, but make a change for a day. Give it a go. You might be surprised at what you learn and you’ll certainly improve the morale and motivation of your staff. And motivated staff perform better for no extra money!
Oh, and one other suggestion. Visit the customers in their own homes or offices. Don’t send for them to come to you.
Enjoy. And do let me know how you get on!