Many years ago, when I was a young new home salesman, I had the misfortune to work with a Construction Superintendent who considered our customers to be an unwelcome interruption of his day. He grumbled his way through every encounter, treating them dismissively and disdainfully. Once, while conducting a final walk-through with a particularly finicky customer, who in his estimation was taking too long, he informed them at the foot of the stairs that they had 15 minutes to tour the second floor, after which he was leaving, finished or not. Not surprisingly, they were in my Sales Office in short order seeking intervention, and then spent several weekends parked outside the Sales Office, warning prospective buyers about how we treat our customers.
The company stood by the Superintendent, reinforcing his behaviors, in large part because he performed reasonably well in other areas, like budget control and construction schedules. The company thus demonstrated to me how they really feel about their customers, despite their public claims. I learned that taking care of customers was less important than protecting the company’s interests, that treating customers badly was acceptable. It spoke volumes about the company’s true priorities and culture.
As an Avid client, you already take customer satisfaction seriously, as evidenced by your commitment to tracking performance through Avid surveys. I hope that you also have vigorous mechanisms to act on gaps in your team’s performance in managing their customer relationships. To me though, it comes down to the kind of culture you create, the integrity and ethics you demonstrate, and the behaviors you embed in your company’s DNA. Consider the following questions:
- How often do you stress the importance of your company’s integrity and commitment to the customer in company communications, meetings and conversations with team members?
- Are your key decisions based on what’s best for your customers? Do your decisions reflect your integrity and fairness toward customers?
- Does your team consistently make decisions that are in the best interest of your customers, following your example? Can they predict how you would handle customer satisfaction issues when they arise?
- How much recognition do you provide to team members who excel in serving their customers? Do you celebrate and publicize great customer care stories?
- Do your employee performance reviews include discussion about their customer satisfaction scores and the quality of their relationships with customers? Are integrity and ethical behavior among your core values?
- Do your incentive compensation plans include high customer satisfaction ratings as a condition of receiving bonuses?
- Do you hire people partly on the basis of their values and expressed sensitivity toward customers and co-workers?
- Do you tolerate employees like the Superintendent described above? (This question is particularly important. Having even one employee who treats customers badly sends a very loud message to all other employees!)
Your team looks to you for evidence of your personal integrity, and ethical and fair treatment of your customers, business partners, and them. Your decisions and actions speak louder than your words. Do you consistently “walk the talk”?
In a related topic, the Avid Team has been spending a lot of time lately discussing the importance of transparency and integrity in publishing customer satisfaction data. Some companies manipulate such data to improve their perceived standing among customers, an activity which is now illegal and subject to serious penalty if discovered. As important, those companies’ employees are surely aware of these actions, exposing management’s willingness to compromise the company’s integrity and ethical standing in a shortsighted attempt to boost sales.
A leader can’t be “mostly ethical” or demonstrate integrity most of the time. It’s an all or nothing proposition. That goes for how you treat your employees, your business partners and your customers. If that Superintendent works for you today, invite him to “seek excellence” elsewhere tomorrow.
How often do you stress the importance of integrity and commitment to the customer in your company’s internal communications and meetings?