WHAT SERVICE? WE’RE DEALING WITH THE VIRUS!

The Chinese Communist Virus has not only killed tens of thousands of innocent Americans but it is now the most recent foil used by organizations around the country to kill service to the customer.

In telecommunications, hospitality, education, banking, retail, healthcare, and countless other business sectors of the economy the virus is cited as the reason why organizations are slow or unable to respond to the needs of the consumer. Government services, which have never been known to respond to the needs of citizens with alacrity, have become congealed in a combination of fear and ineptitude.

The virus now takes its place in the pantheon of reasons which organizations have long proffered for barely lifting a finger on behalf of the customer. Lousy and trivial excuses for not serving the customer now seem more grave and sincere because the virus is involved.

A handful of examples will suffice to make the point:

  • Comcast Corporation, the largest internet provider with over 25 million subscribers, and over 21 million TV subscribers will keep a telephone caller on hold for an hour or longer and take days to address a technical issue either remotely or in person. The reason? As a supervisor explained it to me: “Because of the virus, our technicians are having to work from home.” Again, we’re not talking about an upstart piker in the phone business but about the largest telecom company in the United States with monopoly markets in many metropolitan areas of the country.
  • The prestigious Boca Raton Hotel and Resort in South Florida continues to bill its members a monthly fee of nearly $1,000 despite the fact that all of its facilities have been shuttered and most of its workers furloughed for months. Only recently was the resort moved to issue a meager one-time $500 credit to its members. “In appreciation of your support,” reads the communiqué from the resort’s President in announcing the spending credit.
  • Universities continue to charge full tuition for students to participate in what is essentially an online class curriculum. Dartmouth college, for instance, charges over $55,000 in tuition for nothing more thanso-called “computer”learning. It is no wonder that the college is facing a $5 million class action suit from parents for its failure to mitigate the cost of tuition and fees. Dartmouth is not a solitary offender as approximately one-hundred other universities and colleges are facing similar lawsuits.
  • Major banks such as HSBC and JP Morgan Chase have closed many of their branches not only to foot traffic but to drive-through traffic as well. Private bankers whose value to their clients rests on personal relationships coupled with an in-depth knowledge of financial products are largely missing in action. The fallback service provider for these banks is as ineffective now as it was before the virus, namely the call-center attendant in Manila.
  • David Wohl, a California Criminal Defense Attorney, recently visited his favorite haberdasher, Men’s Wearhouse. When Mr. Wohl arrived at the store he was not allowed inside due to “social distancing.” He was instead asked to stand outside in 103˚ weather. After about fifteen minutes of waiting in the sweltering heat Mr. Wohl asked if he could enter, “No, the manager said, and if you have an issue with it you can go somewhere else.” The Men’s Wearhouse chain has over 700 stores and is owned by the financially troubled Tailored Brands. The Company has negative equity and negative earnings. It is $1.4 billion in debt and it has seen its share price drop from $5.96 a year ago to $.65 at the most recent close.   Blame the virus all you want but the problem with this retailer runs much deeper than that.
  • According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) hospitals rated 75 points out of 100 with consumers in 2016 in satisfaction. By comparison, government services rated a paltry 68 points out of 100. In school, the former score would earn you maybe a C grade. The latter, no better than a D+ in your report card. In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has railed against a local hospital charging $150 for a virus test. But predatory pricing is what awaits the patient who visits a hospital emergency room. Cases abound of hospitals gouging patients by charging thousands of dollars for visits to the ER which at times have been devoid of a swab test for the virus.
  • The court system in the United States is at a virtual standstill as judges have postponed trials and hearings. Only a few jurisdictions have sought to use technology such as remote video and teleconferencing to conduct business. Clearly, a failure to adapt to the new reality brought about by the virus could have serious implications for people with immediate problems including those in prison awaiting trial, individuals in need of a restraining order or those in need of a custody judgment. Worse, individuals facing indictments are getting a free pass while the court system is shut down. When the court system reopens, the unprecedented backlog of civilian and criminal litigation will bring chaos to the courts to the chagrin of both litigants and law professionals alike.
  • New York City has experienced an increase of 53% in shooting victims to 636 and an increase of 21% in homicides to 178 for the first six months of 2020. And, after a spate of violence over the Fourth of July Weekend Mayor Bill de Blasio, attributed the uptick in violence to the virus. “This is directly related to the coronavirus,” said the Mayor. Outlandish if not bizarre, the Mayor’s explanation failed to mention the city’s new bail reform which puts convicted criminals back on the street, defunding the Police Department to the tune of $1 billion, releasing inmates from Rikers Island, and disbanding the city’s anti-crime unit.

The state of affairs described above is a confluence of supplier behavior best epitomized by the glib phrase “we’re doing the best we can,” and consumers who no longer have an expectation that their suppliers can deliver excellence in service. At the dawn of the twenty-first century it appeared that consumers were emboldened to become more demanding than at any other time in history due to techno/economic trends that shrunk the globe, increased consumer choices exponentially, and thus leveled the playing field for rich and poor consumers alike. Now it seems that our optimism was unfounded. The Chinese Communist pathogen has taken care of that.

We are experiencing a service meltdown that is ineffable despite decades of lip service by executives of organizations large and small about the great and wonderful job they are doing on the service front.

And, I am not optimistic that suppliers, in the main, will relinquish their obsession with financial rewards or other perquisites and suddenly become more disposed to work in the customer’s behalf.

THE CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS REQUIRED FOR EXCELLENCE IN SERVICE

There are four critical success factors needed for excellent service to result. These factors must work holistically – as a system – so as to deliver unimpeachable service. Leave any of these elements out and you suck out the oxygen needed to contribute to the growth and vitality of the customer-focused organization.

What follows is my take on the critical success factors of service based on my experience starting and running numerous business for nearly fifty years:

  1. Leadership from the top – The key issue that catalyzes all other critical success factors is leadership. The customer-focused organization demands a special kind of leadership. The customer-focused leader must have his ear to the ground, the moral courage to challenge long-held assumptions, make tough decisions, implement needed reforms, and, in the end, raise what is intellectually sound to an emotional level. In the absence of this kind of commitment service will continue as nothing more than an afterthought, something to deal with only in the face of serious customer discontent.
  2. The customer as the centerpiece of strategy – The customer-focused organization centers its strategy around the customer. Reaching out to the customer in a thoughtful and meaningful way forms the basis for a strategy which gives direction to a long-term vision, a mission statement, financial goals, organizational structures, technology initiatives and so on. The alternative is a strategy formulation process which only rewards the technocrats in the ivory tower.
  3. A service ethic – The organization that is genuine about its commitment to the customer needs to actively promote and enforce an ethical standard that, above all else, celebrates and rewards employees for satisfying customer needs, and for always acting with integrity. Lapses in integrity erode trust, and this, in turn, erects barriers to the free exchange of candid information so vital to the pursuit of excellence in service. A service ethic can only thrive in an environment of hard-hitting, frank, and open discussion both inside and outside the organization.
  4. Power to the front line – Human capital, intelligent, skilled, and properly supported and equipped is the fundamental resource that adds value to the customer-focused organization. My definition of a frontline worker is, therefore, correspondingly broad: anyone who has contact with the customer is by my definition on the frontline. Service at the front, the mechanics of which are just as much art as they are science, pivots on the competence, preparation, support, and dedication of individuals distant from the executive suite.

A full expression of service to the customer can only be found in an environment where these critical success factors work in harmony. No one critical success factor, working in isolation, can be the determining factor, regardless of how much organizational might is put behind it. A failure to appreciate the interplay of the four factors, and to execute in the light of their complex nature leads to myriad rationalizations such as those described above and whose current scapegoat is the Chinese Communist Virus.

Management Advisor

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