Over the many years of working with organisations to help them become ‘customer centered’, I have witnessed a number of successes as well as failures. By understanding why these well-intentioned initiatives fail and looking for common causes we are able to address them early in the planning process for future initiatives and thus increase the odds of success.
The six most common reasons for failure I have seen throughout my career are these:
1. Past Success
“Nothing fails like success.” In a moderately successful organization, when things are running “well enough”, senior managers do not want to risk their careers by championing a new way of being. They realize that changing the culture of an organization is like changing its DNA and they simply don’t want to take that on.
Lou Gerstner, reflecting on his turnaround at IBM said, “Organizations don’t change because people don’t want to change,” and all too often those “people” are the ones at the top.
In the absence of enlightened leadership that sees new opportunities, a burning platform is needed to create the motivation to set out in a new direction. There has to be a compelling and widely understood reason for change without which people will give significant lip service backed up by woefully little real action as they just go through the motions phantom change.
2. Uncommitted Leaders
I have never met a senior executive who says “Customers? Who needs them!?” Every leader knows how important it is to clearly identify customer segments, understands their needs and deliver solutions consistently and reliably.
Most leaders, however, do not demonstrate the level of commitment required. They are not the role models we need to see. Successful leaders, on the other hand, dive into the details and take full responsibility for creating an engaging environment where every individual is willing and able to fulfill the vision and mission of the organization.
3. No Voice of the Customer
In this case the organization is not “hardwired” to its customers and prospects. Important service and product decisions are based on assumptions and 2nd or 3rd hand information. The few powerful metrics that have the greatest impact on the successful execution of the organization’s strategy are all too often either not measured or, if measured, not shared with all employees.
4. Organizational Silos
In the increasingly complex environments in which we work today, no single job, department or function can succeed without significant levels of collaboration.
“Lateral listening,” and working closely with internal service partners are vital to making and keeping marketplace promises. This is the foundation of building a successful ‘customer-centered’ service culture and yet all too often inappropriate incentives drive us to withhold information and compete internally.
5. Inadequate Education
Senior executives often get all pumped up and excited by the allure of being customer centered. They then announce to all employees that the game is now about making customers happy and that everyone should do a better job in this area.
The big mistake these executives make is to believe that improving customer service is simply a matter of announcing that there is a new game and after that it is merely an employee attitude and motivation issue.
What they fail to realize is that while mindset matters, great service needs great skillsets, too. The new service behaviors required for success definitely require thoughtful, targeted education. In most cases they are not innate or natural. Management can provide generous incentives or onerous threats to shape employee behavior but without proper training such actions will not move the customer delight needle one bit. In effect they are incentivizing people to do things they are not yet able to do. Proper training is required.
6. “It’s not my job”
Executives and employees alike often believe that just because the organization has a customer satisfaction department or a marketing team that gathers customer data, “customer service” is taken care of and they don’t have to worry about it.
Successful organizations realize that delighting customers is every employee’s job. And when one embraces the concept of the internal customer, it is clear that everyone in the organization has at least one “real” customer who relies on him/her to provide a product or service that is vital to delighting an external customer somewhere down the line.
Which of these common reasons for failure might be lurking inside your organization? The first step to preempt them from derailing your efforts to become a customer centered organization is to recognize and admit that they might exist. The second step is to audit each of the six common reasons and determine the extent to which each of them might be an inhibiting factor for your organization. This might best be done in a group using a 5 point scale (0=not a problem, 5=major issue) to determine the degree each of the six will need corrective action. And, of course, the last step is to identify and take the corrective action.
Guest post by Richard Whiteley
Richard is the author of The Customer-Driven Company, Customer-Centered Growth, Love the Work You’re With and, most recently, The Corporate Shaman. He is a co-founder of The Forum Corporation and winner of the Instructional Systems Association Distinguished Service Award. Richard is a long-time consultant and advisor of UP! Your Service.