Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been doing a little experiment and asking people a question that would seem very easy to answer:
Who do you work for?
Most people immediately respond by telling me the name of their company: “I work for ABC Agency, or I work for XYZ Services.” Some people tell me the name of their manager or supervisor: “I work for Ken Smith; he’s a really great guy! Hope you can meet him sometime.”
Now I’m sure you’re thinking. “Not too surprising. What else would people answer? People work for the company that hired them and that issues their pay checks.”
But do employees actually work for the company, or do they ‘really’ work for the customers who pay for the goods or services purchased from the company? In my opinion, no matter who you are or what job you do, you ‘really’ work for the customers your business serves. As Henry Ford said, “Employers only handle the money – it is the customer who pays the wages.” And it doesn’t matter whether your business is small or large, makes products such as clothing, medical supplies or cars, or delivers services like bank transactions or vacation bookings, your customer is who every single person, in every single role in your company ‘really’ works for.
It’s easy to forget that though. And, in my opinion, once you forget, it’s easy for customer service problems to happen. Here’s an example of what I mean:
A few years ago I did some work with the HR division of a large service organization. They couldn’t figure out why the number of customer complaints coming into their call center had suddenly doubled. Or why most were about the length of time customers were having to spend waiting to have questions answered if the service reps needed to call them back. They hadn’t had this problem before, so why now? After spending time with the service reps in the call center, and the processors in the other departments, here is what we discovered:
- Customer service reps were telling callers that they’d get back to them in 48 hours. Then they’d create a service ticket and send it over to the department that had processed the original transaction.
- The processor would receive the service request and then spend time researching it. If they had questions, they’d add them to the ticket and then send it back to the service rep who had taken the call.
- The service rep would then add their response to the question and send it back again to the transaction processor.
The service ticket could be bounced back and forth internally, six or seven times over the course of three or four days without the customer ever receiving a call back with an update, or even better, the answer to their question! “But we’re following the ‘interdepartmental ticket resolution process’ properly,” the customer service reps and transaction processors said. And it was true, they were. Problem was, though, they had forgotten who they ‘really’ worked for: their customer. They had become so focused on following their internal processes to the letter, that they forgot that the purpose of that process, of the work that both departments were doing their best to do properly, was to serve their customer: the person they ‘really’ worked for!
If you work in a service organization, in theory, you know that you’re there to serve your customer; however, in practice, it’s very easy to become totally internally focused. It’s critical, for your company and your customers, that you don’t let that happen. If you’re not sure whether your company has become internally focused instead of customer-focused, here are some signs to look for:
- Do you refer to your customers by their names, or do you refer to them in non-human terms like ‘service requests’, ‘renewals’ or ‘account numbers’? Customers are people, and when we don’t talk about them in human terms, but in internal jargon, or three-letter acronyms, it’s definitely a sign that your company may be too internally focused.
- Do you regularly reach out and talk to your customers to ask them about the service experiences they are having? Or do you believe that as long as your customers aren’t complaining, everything is perfectly fine? Remember, no news isn’t always good news. An unhappy customer might simply ‘vote with their feet’ and walk away without every letting you know why.
- Do you have SLA’s (service level agreements) with other internal business units that are based strictly on industry benchmarks? If you so, how do you know that those benchmarks will satisfy your specific customers? And if the industry benchmark is 80% satisfaction, and your company is satisfied with hitting that, what happens to the other 20% of the customers you are working for?
If you think that your company has become too internally focused, my suggestion is that you reach out the people you ‘really’ work for – your customers – and starting getting to know them again. Ask them what they like about your products and services and what they don’t. Get to know them as people, the real human beings that they are! Then when you talk about them at work, talk about them by name, not account numbers, or in non-human terms. Ask them what they wish your company could do that it doesn’t do now and then find ways to do those things to give them exactly what they want when they want it. Once you do that, you’ll ‘really’ be working for your customer. And that’s exactly who you should be working for!