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The Human Single Point of Failure

By Guest Blogger, Mary Schmidt, Marketing Troubleshooter

And can't we all rant for hours about the sorry state of customer service? I write about Big Clueless Companies...but (and here I'm making an abrupt turn...screechhhh...) - it's not necessarily all the CEO's  and "management's" fault.  I'd submit that many executives actually do believe all that stuff about commitment to customers.  (I've worked with a number of them...been one of them back in my Corporate days.)

The problem is that most corporate (and guv) execs, due to organizational structure, are so far removed from the real world that the single point of excellence and failure often falls way down the line, to a person who may or may not have the attitude, experience or skills for the job. 

What's truly baffling to me is that service hasn't gotten any better in this difficult economy. Banks still act like they have all the cards - foreclosing on properties that will sit empty (and on their books)...Credit card companies are still acting like Tony Soprano in a bad mood...and customer service employees everywhere still seem to think the customer is the unnecessary (and irritating) component of customer service. You'd think that even the dimmest employee would have caught on the company needs customers if there are to be jobs.

"M'AM, you can't do anything about it." Credit card phone rep ever so "politely" telling a friend of mine to basically go pound sand. Um, y'all do know that you need good customers these days, right? 

"You'll JUST HAVE TO WAIT until I finish this." Desk clerk at luxe hotel snips, if he or she deigns to notice you standing there at allAnd the headlines continue about upscale hotels going under...

"I never said that." The salesperson says...even after you forward the email that shows that - yes, indeed - he did say that. And the headlines continue about people not buying in these tough economic times...

Then there are conversations that go like the old "my dog didn't bite's not my dog...I don't have a dog..." routine.   Which is actually excellent service avoidance strategy since it leaves the customers so flummoxed, they can't respond appropriately. 

I recently had that experience with the admin. assistant at an Albuquerque museum in helping with a big client event.  She'd say one thing.  Then deny she said it.  Then claim we never talked about (even when there were those pesky emails...) Last resort, "It's not in the contract."  Well - dang me and hang me - she got me there.  Indeed, there was nothing written in the contract about treating customers with honesty and courtesy. 

The museum is a gorgeous venue and the rest of the actual working staff (security guards, maintenance people, etc.) couldn't be nicer.  But...then there's the human single point of failure.  Luckily, the attendees weren't subjected to the behind-the-scenes surreality.  Due, in no small part, to the top-notch caterers who understand the meaning of customer service (and went above and beyond...and had also warned me about the museum.)    

Now, I'm sure the museum probably doesn't get many complaints.  Most people aren't good at confrontation and - besides - it takes time and energy to lodge a complaint (will it do any good anyway?)  But, I wonder - how much repeat biz do they get?  Hmmm...asking around I find "the museum" has a reputation for being difficult to work with ("I'll never have another event here," one biz owner said to me)...when it's really that single point of failure. 

So, if you're at the top of your company - spend some time way down the line.  You may find that what you thought was a big, gnarly economic actually a people person problem. 


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