Skin deep customer focus

Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face in Batman Forever - 1995

For those of you outside the UK who were lucky enough to miss our inconclusive general election campaign, you may have missed one of the smallest, but most influential, moments about which public opinion turned.

As the BBC reported it, on the 28th April, Gordon Brown was doing the usual walkabout with that false smile plastered to his face. In Rochdale (a gritty northern town), he meets Mrs Duffy who has a bit of a go at him (who wouldn’t?). Firstly about government debt (more than justified, Gordon), then the number of people on benefits (still the same as when you started 13 years ago, Gordon. Finally, she raises the issue of immigration and all the Eastern Europeans taking the jobs (probably no longer a real concern, but The Economist reports that most of the jobs that Gordon created went to them).

Gordon delivers the same old messages (which fail to answer the questions), and gets back in the ministerial car without realising that he is still wearing a Sky News microphone.

Brown: “That was a disaster.”

Aide: “What did she say?”

Brown: “Well, just…You should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?”

Aide: “What did she say?”

Brown: “Oh, everything, she’s just a sort of bigoted woman who said she used to vote Labour.”

Bigotgate was born.

Later, when confronted with the recording on a national radio show, Brown conducted a perfect face palm, quite possibly a first for a senior political figure in the UK. I suspect lots of us reacted with amazement at the stupidity, first, and then quickly followed that with the thought that that it could so easily have been one of us.

How often have you worked in organisations who talk about “care for the customer”, or “customer empathy”, or “understanding the customer’s needs”? And how many of those organisations have been negative about those customers once the phone is down or the shop door closes?

When I heard this story, I have to admit that an organisation I worked with came to mind. They are serious about delivering exceptional quality and service to their customers. They have good relationships with key personnel and know them well. They work late and give up weekends to deliver quality product. They understand the contribution the customer makes to their organisation’s success. But, when the phone goes down, the customer becomes the butt of their jokes, the dumb ass, the byword for incompetence. How can they hold the two states in their minds simultaneously and what does it do to their mental well-being to be so contrary?

I visited the extraordinary missionstatements.com to find some examples of mission statements from tech companies. I’ve interpreted these for you in the light of this type of environment. I don’t know the organisations these come from and have attempted to mask their identities.

External corporate message Internal employee message
The strategies evolved should be economical, efficient, durable, flexible and allow the organisations to respond rapidly to both market and customer needs. The customer will be satisfied with just enough, particularly if we move fast.
… mission is to become a market leader by consistently exceeding our Customer’s expectations Our customers’ expectations are so, low.
We will continually communicate with, and learn from our Customers, in order to improve our products and services. Our support department is swamped with customer problems.
…  we will keep on top of today’s and tomorrow’s technology, no matter how fast it moves, to ensure our Customers always have the best tools available to them. Our products are already out of date, but our customers haven’t spotted it yet.
deliver long term commercial benefits, based upon our clients key business requirements We’re going to make so much money out of our customers.
Our clients are […] interested in moving beyond the limits of […] and into 21st century… They’re interested in all sorts of things, and we’ll be ready for the 21st century (when is that?).
We strive to develop a superior […] for our users through state-of-the-art technology, innovation, leadership and partnerships. We’ve been striving for years, still not got anywhere though.
Our mission is: to deliver the best possible reliable software solutions to help our clients improve […] efficiency and business profitability. Our customers are hugely inefficient and unprofitable that they’ve not spotted now buggy our software is.
Our mission is clear. “You could say we’re of two minds on the subject.”

The point is that if we allow cynicism to creep into our relationship with our customers, that cynicism is going to leak out at some point, just as it did for Gordon Brown, and probably at the worst possible moment. I know: I once included a snide comment about a customer to appear in an email, which I then managed to copy to that customer.
Doh!
Dilbert.com

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