6 Obstacles to customer focus paradise

A year and a half ago I had a huge customer service issue with Dell. This issue was ultimately fixed for me, but the experience left a stingy feeling. Not to mention a burning desire to change it.

Fast forward to an article on the New York Time’s about a guy who is living through a three month customer service odyssey with HP. It is a very similar situation to mine, and it brought back those terrible memories of  not being able to do anything and feeling like you are being ignored.

The article got me, and a few other people, thinking about the gap between what matters to customers and what matters to organizations:

We all know that most organizations see customer service as a cost, not a benefit. They keyword here is “cost”, as in what matters to me (as an organization) is reducing costs. Not delighting the customer.

There is also the matter of strategy, like Arnold Beekes points out, and finding a way to uniquely differentiate. Again, customer service isn’t on most executives radar. That is where the problem is: the focus is not on the customer’s needs.

To become customer-focused, it is useful to identify what obstacles stand in our way.

Here are a few ones I’ve identified:

  1. Lack of understanding that customer satisfaction is holistic. It is about a consistent customer experience. This requires destroying silos. It means every department in your organization works to satisfy its customer. Not to satisfy their own interest.
  2. Lack of Accountability. Most organizations don’t live the “it is our problem until it is no longer yours” ethos. They may think they get there after they’ve resolved the customer’s problem three months later, but that isn’t satisfaction. That is putting out a fire. Satisfaction is never repeating the same behavior ever again. For any customer. Satisfaction is acknowledging that you suck and then doing something about it. Fast.
  3. Culture of “not my problem”. Organizations are a collection of silos. These silos create insulation, protection from responsibilities that aren’t part of their job description. We’ve all lived through this problem when we call customer support and are suddenly being transferred from one person to another.
  4. Customer knowledge ignorance and action. We live in a world of data. And today, all organizations as IT organizations. They all have, in some form, customer data at their disposal. Yet this data, is being ignored. Even if organizations don’t ignore this data, they lack the abilities to truly harness this improved customer understanding.
  5. Rewarding non-customer focused behavior. Rewarding people for their output, not their outcomes. If all people are doing is checking off a checklist of customer satisfaction activities just to say they did it, you might as well start hiring your most passionate customers. At least you’ll know they’ll care a lot more. Metrics shape behavior. Ask yourself: How do I measure success?
  6. Mindset. IMO, it all boils down to mindset. There’s growth and fixed mindset. Organizations with a collective growth-mindset want to learn from their customers. They want to innovate with the customer’s interest in mind while, at the same time, looking beyond their current needs and wants. And will do whatever it takes to do this. On the other hand, organizations with a fixed-mindset are the opposite. They want to grow because that’s what everyone else does. They want to grow because of market/financial pressures, not because of “customer satisfaction pressures”.
  7. Lack of freedom that individual employees working in customer service have “to do the right thing”. They know what to do, just are unable to do it. This is worse in companies who offshore customer service and thus lose the cultural context and engagement with customers.

This isn’t an eye-opening list. There are many other obstacles, but my intent is not to turn this into a complex problem. Again, I think this is a mindset problem. Because if an organization doesn’t have the customer-focused mindset, not amount of tweaks here and there is going to make a difference.

The difference is in really owning up to it. Would you like your organization to “own customer service”? What other obstacles have you identified? What would you add?

UPDATE: Added Kevin McFarthing’s thoughts to point #7. See his comment.

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  • Kevin McFarthing

    Hi Jorge – another obstacle is the lack of freedom that individual employees working in customer service have to “do the right thing”.  They know what to do, just are unable to do it.  This is worse in companies who offshore customer service and thus lose the cultural context and engagement with customers.

    Here’s an opposite story.  My son got married at the weekend, and many things had been ordered in advance to make sure the event and party went well.  The wine turned up a few days earlier, and an extra case we ordered hadn’t been added to the order.  I phoned the company, the guy who answered said “leave it to me”.  They not only sent the missing case, but added another.  For free.  Guess how I feel about this company??


    • Hi Kevin @innovationfixer,

      Awesome! That’s how you feel. Congratulations BTW.

      Added your thoughts to the list at #7.



  • Customer knowledge ignorance (i.e. social media) is a growing problem.  Consumers are adopting social media faster than many large organizations.  By not keeping up to date on social media networks and tools, companies miss out on a communication channel that is growing in importance.  Personally I have developed a new set of “social media standards” when it comes to expecting feedback from questions posted in places like Twitter and Facebook.  These channels need more immediate response than an email, phone call or online feedback form.

    Companies slow to adopt these tools are also missing out on monitoring opportunities to potentially catch issues early so they can be proactive in solving/addressing the problem.

    Related problem is that organizations may know that customers are online talking about them, but they ignore the importance/urgency to join the conversation.

    • Hi Jason @jawbrain ,

      You are right. Companies are losing a golden opportunity to not only change the customer’s expectations but to also change themselves. But this “social media is marketing” mindset is making them blind. They are missing out on:

      1. Connection with customers.

      which then leads to…

      2. Word of mouth

      which then leads to…

      3. Advocacy. For some of us it is very obvious that social media tools can help us build or take advantage of existing advocates. For others, not so much.

      What would you add?



      • On the flip side of customer service issues and complaints are those customers praising your brand and/or product.  Many organizations focus on fixing the problems, but rarely spend any energy engaging their biggest fans.  Social media also helps provide an outlet to further engage these customers. 

        By engaging the customers spreading good cheers about your company, you will encourage them to do more of it and build them into bigger advocates.

        Social media tools can also provide companies the opportunity to bring these customer conversations in-house on their own networks and pages.  Customers are talking about online (positively and negatively), you might as well help provide the platform so they can do so.  This also makes it easier to monitor and respond.

        • Hi Jason @jawbrain:twitter

          Well said. From talking to inspiring advocates.

          What do you think Facebook’s role is in this equation? Should organizations build and manage their own social network outside of Facebook?



  • You are right, Jorge. it all boils down to the stakeholders perspective on customer service . it really should be embedded as a business philosophy, as an integral part of your culture.

    Please see also :http://arnoldbeekes.blogspot.nl/2012/06/customer-service-is-business-philosophy.html

    • Hi Arnold @arnoldbeekes:twitter ,

      Well said in your blog post. More websites and apps that help deal with complaints won’t cut it. Just excuses to deal with the mayhem.