Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Executives Are Bewildered. Front-line is Not

In a recent survey of thousands of customers, 47% say they don’t believe company executives understand their experiences, citing problems such as rude customer service staff or employees who provide the wrong information or never solve the customer's problem.

In the same survey, executives would give their companies' customer service "B" grades; consumers give them "D" grades. That is a tragic disconnect that could have disastrous consequences for the future of these business.

Executives assume they know their customer’s experiences and problems because they have experience in the business and have access to reports that measure any number of data points. But they are missing what customers are actually complaining about during interactions with their company employees because they are not listening.

Your front-line certainly knows what your customers are complaining about…they hear it every day. Among the biggest complaints is about terrible service received from your employees.

Are your employees really not prepared? Do they really not care? Are they really giving out bad information on purpose? I would like you to consider that they are probably not. Management has in place processes and procedures that limit people’s ability to service customers.

Management does not trust people to make decisions beyond a certain point out of fear of losing money…so restrictive policies are set up to not allow customers to be served. Also, it sets up an environment in which feedback from customers and employees is not heard.

After all, why should your front-line employees communicate feedback on customer requests that are outside of policies? The last time an employee made a suggestion, their manager told them it was against the policy and nothing could be done about it.

Do you have systems in place that encourage feedback and a communication mechanism for letting people know the progress of that feedback? Are people rewarded for their feedback? Do people see others being rewarded for suggesting what customers want?

Consider setting up social networking technologies and encourage the front-line and executives to speak directly to each other about customers wants, needs and complaints. Teach managers how to encourage people to submit feedback from customers.

The front-line talks to customers every day and knows more than any report can show. Managers must learn to listen to the front-line and give them as much decision-making authority as possible when it comes to serving customers.

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