Are you serving bread or customers?

These days, everyone can communicate and commit to a written goal. Thanks to technology, there are multiple systems and ways to track goal achievement in a company. This is the rational side of commitment. It rarely works on its own.




The rabbit hole of rational commitment

We’ve all had customer service which was only rational commitment.


You call for help. The employee doesn’t listen and doesn’t fully understand the problem you want solving. They still open a Customer Service Ticket and close it at the end of the call. You’re left with a partly-solved problem. Your only option is to keep calling, open new tickets, and patiently explain (again) to the next employee what is wrong.


In companies like this, where poor customer service dominates, you could blame the employee. But the root cause is in the company culture.


The customer service employee answers your call, notes the problem, opens and closes Tickets. He clearly feels and shows responsibility. But ticking the boxes is rational commitment. He is only performing the role and duties that he has to.


Without emotional commitment, the standards of customer service will suffer.




Power to the (right) people

The best listeners are the frontline employees – in sales and customer service. They talk to the customers all day long. A good question to ask is: what informal processes are in place to let superiors and other functions (like IT or Product Support) hear and understand current customer issues?


When a company puts customers first, there are channels of communication up and across the company to understand and take action. So when a customer phones with an unusual issue, there is a clear structure and process (if not an immediate answer) to support the customer.


What’s more, the frontline employee has the power to activate and lead this process. They don’t have to pass it on to a supervisor or wait for higher approval.


Putting decision-making power in the hands of employees speeds up service. It allows them to bring their knowledge and experience to work. That’s a big motivator.




A company culture of true commitment

We’ve all had positive experiences as customers. Last week, I was in my local bakery, buying bread. I forgot my wallet. Despite the bakery being part of a large chain with electronic tills, the lady let me take the bread and said, “Pay later”. Okay, she knows me. I returned half an hour later with the money and a big thank you. The point is: she has the power to bypass the standard process and decide the best solution. Her commitment to her customers is rational and emotional. It’s no wonder the queue on a Sunday morning is out of the door.


In global business, this process quickly gets complex. The challenge is standardization versus localization – which is a continuum, not a dichotomy. And yet, driven by the psychological need for control, global managers put standard internal processes above customer satisfaction. The truth is, that neither global managers nor bakery managers make the best use of their time monitoring and controlling.


Much better questions, which I ask high-performing management groups, are:

  • How does customer service look like in our global organization?
  • What formal and informal communications are in place to:
    • push customer feedback and experiences up our company hierarchy?
    • spread service ideas across our functions and global sites?

These are the culture questions that lead to higher commitment, motivation and customer satisfaction across the global organisation.


In short, achieving audacious goals in any company requires commitment. Rational commitment is a rabbit hole – it only gets you so far. True commitment is a balance of rational and emotional factors, deeply embedded into the culture of your company.




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