Monday, January 9, 2012

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union ~ Part 2

I can tell you with absolute confidence, no client ever leaves a supplier because the service they’re getting is too good. No client ever leaves vendor because their users are deliriously happy with the service they’re getting.

Read about any service industry company on Glassdoor, and you will see a constant thread running through the  reviews: management doesn’t listen to the people on the front line. Not sure you believe that? Just have a conversation with anyone who works at the lowest level of a large corporation, and you will hear theme and little variation.

I actually remember working for a large corporation and being totally enamored with our upper management. It wasn’t that long ago. They would have us in twice a year to talk to our buyers about what was coming and what we needed. We could pick up the phone and there was someone who actively listened on the other end. Then the mergers started and suddenly we in the trenches were frozen out. We were told we didn’t understand our department and our customers…the same customers who complained vociferously about our new inability to meet their needs. Their...and our…voices fell on deaf ears. They voted with their feet, and ultimately so did many of us.

This is not news. Upper management knows the front line is the face of the company. That sales clerk or phone service person is the first and often the only link between the corporation and the end user. How that front line worker is perceived is what ultimately determines the success of that company. Yet, too many front line employees feel they are disposable, undervalued, and, perhaps worst of all, patently ignored by the senior management. They are told again and again that they don’t understand their jobs.

Do you really think companies intentionally hire front line workers too stupid to understand their own jobs, much less the concept of Return on Investment? We are not stupid and we get it.  We understand you want measurable ROI, but we understand you won’t get that if the customer/user is not happy.

What happened to building a relationship with the repeat customer? What happened to the part where your user/customer/client develops a sense of trust that you will do right by them? How does the trench worker reconcile the demand for speed above all else when they know it shortchanges the client?
Go to any corporate training and listen to the front line being told over and over to smile, be welcoming, make the user/customer/client feel as if they are the most important person in the world. They show us the F.I.S.H. video over and over and over, but when it comes to putting it into practice, they balk. They talk quality, but stress speed – accuracy be damned. Upsell an item. Open new accounts. Reach your $$ per hour goal,  but do it faster not necessarily better. Miss your goal, and you’re gone.

When the front line begins to doubt management's direction, employees begin to feel that they are being set up to fail.  The lack of trust between employer and employee is neither ignorable nor dismissible. That breach moves quickly from fissure to chasm. The higher stacked management gets, the more detached the top is from the actual relationship between front line worker and the client/customer. The loss of that understanding undermines the rest of the company and ultimately impacts the bottom line. Profit margin and ROI are certainly motivating factors for thems at the top who reap significant bonuses for delivering (or, in some cases, not delivering) that fat black at the bottom on the column, but if the only point of doing this is to have a fat black, what is the motivation for the front line who sees little, if anything, of that reward? 

The day business became only about the fat black is the day America lost its soul. You can call the old days terrible and paternalistic and all sorts of things, but once upon a time there were companies that protected their workers and treated them like a big family. They worked together, management and workers, to make sure the company succeeded. Everyone was invested in the end product. This is not a bad thing. There are companies doing just this and they are succeeding.

For the record, I do believe in cutting people who don't do their jobs, and I do believe in making sure you hire the most qualified people to do whatever it is you do, but I simply cannot believe that treating people as disposable is a desirable thing. It does not enhance the customer experience whether it’s in a door, on the phone, or via electronic media.

So now, how about a little symbiosis? How about treating your front line like the money generators that they are? After all, they are really the ones who make sure you get you bonus, right? How about remembering that every company, every corporation is really just a partnership amongst people working together toward a common goal? 

Is that really so much to ask?

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Rava said: At the time that man is brought in for judgement, they say to him: 
Did you conduct your business with integrity and probity? 
Talmud Bavli Shabbat 31a


  1. This synergy you speak of is much more difficult for corporations with offices/plants in numerous countries and whose workforce therefore consists of a plethora of different cultural types who speak a variety of languages.

  2. Sorry to say, but as much as I want to agree with you I am going to take an opposing view . . . you say that the more detached C-suite should have an “actual relationship” with the little guy on the front line. Yes, there is a “loss of understanding”, but if it really, really undermined the company or the ROI I bet those suits would be setting up meetings with folks in the trenches STAT.

    I know it’s hard to believe that such rotten service and management double-speak persists, but some how or other it works for much of American business. If it didn’t we would fix it, but we are all so busy scrambling for the next dollar that we don’t. And yes, even those CEO’s, COO’s, and CFO’s are scrambling for the next dollar just like the “wee folk”. We allow this kind of business practice in the health care industry, oh, and the Banking industry and gosh, even in Real Estate. Oh, geez and it’s an election year! Forget about it! Just keep your eye on the next fish that is flying towards you! It’s probably a shark!

  3. I don't know when this paternalistic dream you described really ever existed from the times of early civilization through medeival times etc. to the present. Looking back to the early 20th, sweatshops (eg Triangle Waist) and Pullman towns and more. Workers have rarely been more than mere tools to management. Elaine

  4. Actually, I was thinking a little later in the 20th century when many companies did pride themselves on families as multi-generational workers. To be sure, unions were a major force in stopping the abuses of the early industrialization of America, but there was also a brief period when company loyalty was cultivated and respected. That said, your point is well taken.

  5. It sounds like you are trying to send your current employer a not so cryptic message. I hope they are more open-minded than you think they are -- cause if they're not, you may not have a job by the time next week's blog hits the fan. (Wow! I suspect that blog would be real juicy.)