We’re blessed at my company to have a team of people, each of whom is, well, remarkable. They love what they do, they’re seriously professional in delivering our services, and they have fun while doing it. We had a conversation last week about something that we’d noticed in working with one of our clients: it’s a well known corporation that prides itself on customer service. It’s the backbone of their business and they’re written up all the time as being exemplary in their engagement of their customers. They make it fun to do business with them.
But what we've begun to see, and finally talked about among ourselves, was that as much attention and effort is paid to treating their customers well, they are anything but friendly to their vendors. In fact, some of their employees are downright abusive in their efforts to extract everything they can from the people who perform services for them. How can that be? I’ve long believed that Southwest Airlines was the perfect example of a company that got the formula right: Herb Kelleher said –and he based the company’s modus operandi on it—that customer service shouldn’t be the number one concern; the focus should be on hiring and keeping happy employees. Because, he reasoned, if you hire the right people and keep them happy, they will automatically treat their customers well. And, by extension, they’ll treat vendors well too.
But this client of ours defies that formula. Their employees appear fiercely loyal to the company. But there is an edge to their enthusiasm for the place they work. Some of them, in dealing with employees of my company, have been downright rude. Even mean. After hearing complaints, I decided to study the issue. It seems, ultimately, there is an element of fear at the core of this company’s focus on the customer. It seems that often demands are preceded with the words “If XXXX from our company hears or sees that this happened, there will be Hell to pay…” And “I can’t tell you how unhappy XXXX will be if he/she hears that this wasn’t done.” Or “I’ll be in big trouble if people learn that this didn’t get done a certain way.” Their customer service smile is hidden behind a mask of fear that if they don’t do things exactly as they're trained to do in dealing with suppliers, they’ll be in trouble.
Major disconnect here. Last week, one of our team members finally said, in light of escalating demands for things that had not been included in our original agreement with this company, “Sorry, but I won’t be bullied by you…” She said her remark was met with amazement. But the demands stopped, at least temporarily.