Saturday, January 14, 2006

The only reason to exist

Customer Service, banks, public utilities,
government agencies, monopolies

The discussion which followed the last blog I posted has led me to reflect more about the lack of good customer service which seems to exist in many parts of the world especially in banks, public utilities, and government regulatory agencies.

Why do these entities have such poor service and relations with their clients?

Mostly, I think, it is because the people who work in them, have never, themselves, experienced any better treatment that they dish out and, as such, perhaps don't even know that something better exists.

What I'm saying is that I don't believe that these people are inherently rotten and thus deliver bad service, but that they simply don't know any better.

It's very difficult for a bureaucrat in a government office to realize that the ONLY reason his job exists is that person who is standing in front of him after waiting possibly hours in a line, to have a problem solved. After all, that person HAS TO come to him to get his problem solved, there is no other way to have that problem dealt with, hence he (the bureaucrat) is actually doing this person a favor by having the patience to even listen to their concerns.

Furthermore, he's been doing this all his life and so why should he be worried about that customer being unhappy, no one is going to take his job away for that.

What this bureaucrat does not think about is the possibility that one day his service might become a private company and open to competition, and that his very existance as an employee will depend on whether or not there are enough customers for him to serve. This is what happens in a mature market-driven economy.

It is what is happening now in many countries and industries which are becoming more and more global and where even a local merchant is subject to competition from a competitor who is not only some distance away, but might even be in another country.

The internet, movies and sindicated television programs which are translated and spread around the world give people (read customers) more and more ideas about what good service can be. As more and more people become aware of what they're missing, more and more of these people are going to begin insisting on this in their own lives as customers AND if they work in job where they attend customers, they will have a new modle to follow in their conduct with the clients they attend.

These changes may take a long time to be put into place and become wide spread, but they are happening. I've seen this in Chile where I have been involved with a retail tire sales operation from it's inception a few years ago. Because I came with a different concept of customer service than was common, most of what I instituted was new and it was difficult to train employees to look at their customers as the only reason they had a job.

Now, after several years, it is gratifying to notice that we have set a new standard for service in the area where we operate, but many of the things which we pioneered are now becomming commonly accepted and practiced.

Still, the big institutions seem to be behind in these changes, even though some of them seem to be the leaders in this area. In fact, small businesses can change most rapidly but they tend to follow the lead of the big boys. The big companies have long established traditions and employees with many years of bad habits ingrained which makes them lag in implementing their reforms even though the management may be aware of the need for them.

So, if you work in, run, or own any activity where you must deal with customers (or clients, or "the public") you need to keep in mind one fundamental thought each time you deal with one:

The only reason you exist (as a business, or in a job) is to meet the needs of that client who is facing you in the best way you can.

If you succeed in making that thought a fundamental basis of everything you do, your success in your field will be assured for a long time to come.


hdoong said...

"The only reason you exist (as a business, or in a job) is to meet the needs of that client who is facing you in the best way you can."

How I wish everyone understands and pracices that, and I think at least I can live a few years longer from siffering less stress. Most of the time, these people do not really know this reason for their existence, and sometimes do not have the concept of "client" in their mind. For all you know, they might be thinking that they are doing you a favour, i.e. the only reason that you exist is because they exist. If not, you won't get your things done.

How would you propose to educate these people? How would you propose to let them know something better exists when most of the system actually rots?

fooDcrazEE said...

i do agree with jax but up to a certain point. To me, it is simple the person himself. The attitude towards customer service is very hard to train and it have to come from within. For that to happen, i would say is very scarce indeed.

No amount of training will change their mind set especially the bureaucrats. The complacent had set in. For the big institution in a lot of company, its the lack of competition that screw up the whole mgmt..

jf said...

I have no illusions about it: Changes to a consumer-oriented attitude will probably take a long time.

But, these changes do happen and if we keep in mind the long range view, it may help us to keep up the stuggle and to never give up our ideals.

I've seen some changes take place relatively quickly in the retail area in Chile in the community where the tire business I set up operates.

We set new standards, and kept them up, because I believed they were right. Eventually, other businesses started to copy what we were doing. Their copies, perhaps, might have lacked some of the finer points, but they perceived that what we were doing was producing good results and they wanted to have these same results in their businesses.

In the end, this is the main reason why anyone changes whatever they do. They see the possibility of getting better results so they try something which is new for them.

The hardened bureaucrat is a particular challenge, but I refuse to believe that it is absolutely impossible, to make a change because that individual will eventually be replaced and we may be able to influence how his replacement operates, if we continue to insist on good service, respectful treatment, and fairness in our dealings by thanking those who provide us with these things and pointing out the deficiencies to those who don't.