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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