Having been in the business of serving customers my whole career, I find it especially aggravating to discover companies that have no idea how to provide good CUSTOMER SERVICE.
[Well, yes, I DID provide customer service my entire career. In my first job I was focused on never letting down an aircraft who needed fuel. In my second job, I was intent on providing my satellite or spacecraft a great ride. In my third job I wanted to make sure that any target in great need of total destruction would get serviced promptly.]
Here are three examples of horrible customer service. Notice, in each case, the person I was dealing with most likely wanted to provide the best service they could. But their options were limited. They were restrained from doing so.
Checking out of a major brand home improvement store recently, my cashier was unfamiliar with the price of grey bricks. I had 60 of them. He put in the inventory number he thought was right and started to ring them up at 51 cents apiece. I told him they were 46 cents apiece. He asked a colleague to go back and get the inventory number on the item. As the store was in the midst of serious reconstruction, this took several minutes, during which time the line backed up considerably. When he got the number and entered it into the cash register, the price came up as 46 cents apiece. But he didn’t do all this in the fear that I might get overcharged by $3. He was not allowed to proceed (to check me out) without ensuring the inventory computer was serviced. First. Instead of me. Keeping all the customers backed up in the line. I could get used to the idea that he may need to check the price. I cannot get used to the idea that the inventory computer has a higher priority than me and a long line of customers.
Another day, I was checking out of a superstore that provides both department store items and groceries. I would often hit up this store during lunch hour to grab a quick snack and just enjoy a change of pace from my office by looking around at cool stuff. On occasion, since it was convenient, I would purchase some of the cool stuff. One thing I really enjoyed was the friendly check-out ladies. What put me off of this pleasant interlude was the day the nice lady gave me a seriously canned speech about some item they were hawking. I certainly don’t remember the item. But I do remember this lady giving me this memorized ad. She did not look like she enjoyed it, but was dutifully performing her task. We were both robbed by the corporate idiots who hired her and then abused her.
But all of these check-out person stories pale in comparison to the customer service we expect from our nurses when we need to stay in a hospital. If you are not feeling well, do you like to be surrounded by cavernous echoey halls, binging boxes, and warning klaxons? Really? No? Then why are hospitals designed to provide all these features? I can’t stand it, and I cannot imagine the nurses care for the noise either. Yet who is the advocate for the comfort of the patient? The nurse. Who has allowed all these intrusions on peace and crippled the nurse’s authority in order to do it? The management. And they never have to endure these consequences.
Sure there are lazy, foolish, and rude people ready to make your consumer experience unenjoyable. But in most cases, the blame goes to people you will never see.
The fault is with their managers’ managers’ manager who is several layers removed from you. It amazes me that large corporations don’t act on the notion that the most important person to a customer is the person registering your purchases, taking your money, and providing you the product or service. Yes, that person is usually hired with that in mind. But once hired, they are not being allowed to exercise the latitude required on a minute-by-minute basis.
Instead, they are burdened with extra duties and silly rules. In the first instance, the poor fellow must have the inventory number or he is not allowed to complete the sale. It does not matter how many customers are inconvenienced or how large the amount of money involved. In the second instance, the cashier is forced away from a chat she enjoys to pitch a canned ad — an ad that ultimately drives away customers. In the third instance, the nurse is completely disenfranchised from their main vocation of providing comfort to ensure rapid healing.
The solution? Top leaders who are not seduced by their offices, meetings, and emails. Top leaders who are able to walk away from their desk and actively seek out better ways. Top leaders who can truly keep an open mind as they ask their front line employees for better ideas.