It’s All Downhill From Here

Business curve on a graph

Have you ever dreaded picking up the phone to call a vendor?  I have.  In a lifetime of doing what many would consider high-stress activities like landing on an aircraft carrier at night in bad weather, calling vendors who I know will be less than helpful top the list, until today.  Today the list is topped by having to call a vendor who was once well known for first-rate customer service and is now one of the worst I’ve ever worked with…how the mighty have fallen.

The company was once an amazing company, a beacon and role model for all those who wanted to provide excellent customer service.  While building my second business I would often cite examples where they provided service that went above and beyond.  The company was so good they gained a well-deserved reputation for staunch customer loyalty, a loyalty I also felt.   When competitors would try to woo away my business I would tell them they would have to pry my business from my cold, dead fingers.  There was no way I would ever change.

Their reputation for service meant the company grew significantly.  Then I started to hear rumors.  A co-worker told me a horror story that was so outside my experience with this company I couldn’t find it credible.  Meanwhile, I started seeing ads for this company, they began sponsoring events and appearing on national TV.  I felt proud as if I helped grow them.  After all, I had been a loyal customer for decades at this point.  

Their exposure increased and now their marketing was touting their customer loyalty.  My dissatisfaction started to grow.  Customer service reps started acting like they were doing me a favor.  Policies changed that made it difficult for service reps to fix anything.  Several times I had to contact an “executive resolution team” specialist in unscrewing things.  Today, if I call, I’m usually passed around like a bad bean dip until I’m so frustrated I have to ask for a supervisor…rarely do I get one.  Earlier today I held for 1 hour before their automated system unceremoniously disconnected me.  As I type this, I have been on hold, again, for 24 minutes waiting for a supervisor.  

At this point, I have stopped believing anything I hear about this company and, based on the interactions I’ve had with their representatives, most of them feel the say way.  No one wants to deal with unusual problems.  Instead, they pass the buck.  This is what happens when a company’s systems are not aligned with the organization’s values and purpose, the reality of the customer experience diverges from the delusions of the company’s intent.  While the trajectory of this company be still growing they have begun rotting from the inside and soon they will hit apogee and it will be all downhill from there.

It is said we manage processes and we lead people.  While this is true, that doesn’t mean we ignore processes.  Processes constrain how individuals can act.  Organizations that don’t allow their teams to behave in ways that are aligned with their values are inhibiting their team’s ability to perform.  Simultaneously they undermine any verbal message about their values and destroy their integrity.  What about your processes?  Do they support your people, your values, and your mission or do they frustrate them?


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