We’re all in this together

As I work with organisations up and down the UK on their customer service delivery, I get very used to hearing one particular comment. Here it is:

“I would love to promise my customers what they want (a response, a delivery, a repair, a document, a solution…) – but I can’t rely on the people in the ‘X’ department to get it done on time. Then, when customers don’t get what I’ve promised, I get them back on the phone screaming at me.”

Sound familiar?

This summer, we in the UK are being treated to a new series of the excellent Channel 4 programme, Undercover Boss. Each week we will be following the top executive of a household name who goes out incognito to experience the lives of his or her employees for a week. Invariably they will have their eyes opened to the stresses and strains that exist in roles far removed from the Ivory Tower of Leadership. The programme elegantly highlights the all too common disconnect between the strategic, flow-diagram world of the boardroom and the harsh reality of those up the sharp end, where customers come to engage with the business.

Time and time again Undercover Boss features loyal, hardworking staff, struggling to deliver good service against a background of disjointed processes, an overstretched supply chain and dodgy quality control. It gladdens and frustrates me, all at once, how customer service professionals strive to bridge the gap between what they want to give to the customer, and the reality of what is likely to be doled out.

The series opened (15/07/14) with a focus on Brian Brick, CEO of Moss Bros – provider of hired formal wear to wedding parties, school proms and Ascot race goers for over 150 years. It was the perfect illustration of the absolutely pressing need (pardon the pun) for the whole of an organisation – not just those behind the shop counters – to keep the customer service paradigm* absolutely at the core of everything they do.

The issue was profoundly encapsulated in the daily experiences of the Moss Bros distribution delivery driver, struggling through the London traffic jams with an elderly lorry – held up not only by roadworks and parking problems, but also by dodgy clothes rails that needed impromptu patching up with gaffer tape, and five complicated forms that needed signing off at each delivery point. No wonder he felt overstressed and underpaid. And no wonder the staff at one shop had a customer ‘screaming’ (their words) at them for 45 minutes whilst he waited for his wedding suit to arrive way after the promised time slot.

It’s a clear message: If your organisation’s infrastructure is not sufficiently resourced, all the best people skills in the world will not patch up your customer’s experience. Your customers are your bottom line, and when it comes to keeping them coming back to you – and not to your competitor – we’re absolutely all in it together.

*Paradigm: “A paradigm is a set of beliefs – the framework of morals, ethics and beliefs that shape the way you live your life and interact with others”. The Oxford English Dictionary.

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