Saturday, September 8, 2007

Customer Service

I write this after a rough week of customer service lessons learned.

- Our newspaper was not delivered 4 of 7 days this week. We picked back up...and then it stopped again.

- Our mail is now going to someone else with the same name here in my town. That cannot be good!

- It took me two hours to work through the "language barrier" to get my wireless router fixed on the Linksys customer service Hot Line. The only thing hot after that...was me.

- I was standing at the door of the gym yesterday morning at 0500. At 0520 the guy showed to open up. No apologies...nothing.

And I know I am not unique. If you've done much air travel, you may sense, as I have, that we matter less and less. No "bending over backwards because I know you are the customer and you are paying for this and I know you have a choice and how may I serve you!" Same thing in so many other industries. And we won't even talk about the post office, the DMV, or the cable company. I'm on "Customer Service Alert Level 9!"

But before I get too spun up, I needed to examine my own customer service. And therein lies the leadership lesson. True leadership is about the service of others. So I need to constantly assess how I am doing in these areas:

- Do we promptly return phone calls and emails. Even a short acknowledgement lets others know that their contribution matters.

- Do our products and services give the customers what they want? Or do we give them what we want, what makes us comfortable? So often, especially in government, we have a "here it is...take it or leave it" view of our services.

- Do we place the needs of our internal customers (our employees) above our own? Are we sensitive to their issues, their needs for growth, their input on problems? Or are we focused on ourselves?

- Organizationally, do we handle correspondence in an appropriate way. This is a big problem for government. We get dozens of requests for information every day. I handled one recently that was a response to a request for information from a local municipality. It was several months old. I had my staff go back and rewrite my response with the following opening statement: "Please accept my apologies for this slow response. We are better than this and you should fully expect more timely communication from us. It is my goal to be more transparent and more responsive. Please hold me accountable as we strive to improve. This delinquency is unacceptable...even in government!"

You get the picture. We all can do better in this area. To lead is to serve. I'm learning this lesson every day. But can be painful!

That's Leader Business.

P.S. For those of you not on my mailing list for the Leader Business Newsletter, here is a link to the August newsletter, a summary of our discussion on a leadership philosophy, what I call "The 7 BEs of a Leader." Enjoy! Hooah!

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