Not my job

Scenario: I'm at the gym in mid-sweat. I'm struck with a great idea that will make life better for the gym patrons and staff. It's cheap and easy to implement - so, I decide to share my suggestion with my pal, the facilities manager. "We'll, that is a good idea..." he said, shrugging, "...but you'll have to tell our regional manager -- that’s not my job."

Can you relate? You see something that can improved and you suggest an idea; You experience something rotten - but avoidable and speak up to fix it; You stumble on something broken and alert management to it; You sense something missing and call it to someone’s attention -- and you're met with the response "Sorry, that's not my job."

"Not my job" is the enemy of good customer experience.

Customers who expend time and energy to make a suggestion are reaching out because they care in some way, either to improve their experience; to gain a greater sense of satisfaction; or to right something wrong. When customers provide feedback, it is an act of trust and good will.

A "not my job" response forces customers to make an unfortunate choice: seek an alternative source for satisfaction – or walk away, entirely. Customers must also re-process their brand association against this treatment, which may be perceived as indifferent, uncaring, lazy, un-empowered, impolite, foolish -- or all of the above. Amazing how it's possible to communicate so much with just three little words.

"Not my job" culture may cost today's companies more than they realize.

The "not my job" virus harms more than individual customer relationships. Once present, it can spread quickly to infect the front line culture. The "not my job" illness ushers in an attitude of apathy and indifference. This undermines customer-centric, initiative-taking behavior and disrupts teamwork and cooperation.

Many executive leaders feel their companies are immune to this illness. Perhaps this is because they've invested heavily in the creation of business process frameworks (AKA "Customer Listening Frameworks") for the capture and processing of customer feedback. However, even the most sophisticated organizations, customer listening can fail.

When a corporate culture is not clearly oriented toward customer service; when the organization is not properly aligned to manage customers in an empowered way; or when customer facing staff are not clearly and consistently coached on how to effectively manage customer feedback, failure occurs.

Is the "not my job" virus infecting your organization?

Run a few informal tests of your own: Assume the role of a customer and walk in, call or click in to any store and attempt to raise a concern, question or suggestion. See what happens. How are you responded to? Do you leave knowing where will your feedback go? Do you feel satisfied by the response provided to you? What three adjectives summarize your experience? Try this a few times in different channels. If you don't walk a way with a sense that the company is interested, engaged and actively considering your idea, perhaps it’s time to evaluate your framework for customer listening, to see where breakdowns occur.

Consider that an effective framework for customer listening is supported by three key elements:

1. The operational structure that supports customer listening, including:
-- A repository for customer suggestions, suited to the size of your organization
-- An internal process for trafficking suggestions to this repository
-- Owners who are responsible for encouraging and reviewing customer feedback
-- A process for rewarding and/or thanking customers for feedback
-- The capability to act and respond to great ideas in rapid fashion

2. An empowered culture that eradicates “not my job” from employee vocabulary:
-- Management that is passionate and enthusiastic about customer satisfaction
-- Employees who view customer satisfaction as a primary job responsibility
-- Clear, consistent process for receiving, managing and responding to feedback
-- Training, coaching and case studies that drive active customer listening skills
-- Public thanks/reward programs for employees who support customer centricity

3. Customer-facing staff who manage customer feedback with active listening:
-- Listen and acknowledge the customer's input
-- Thank the concerned customer for taking the time to provide feedback
-- Reinforce that the feedback is valued and appreciated
-- Voice enthusiasm for making the idea “officially heard” by:
    * Escalating ideas to management or appropriate contact OR
    * Offering the customer additional options (e.g. comment card)
-- Follow up with the customer as appropriate to ensure satisfaction

By reinforcing your framework for customer listening, you'll drive more positive customer-centric behavior among employees and open your company to customer-driven innovation. While it's certainly impractical to act on every customer suggestion, the tangible benefits of active listening alone are enough to secure repeat business from even the most difficult customer. By listening more actively, you may also learn something valuable from your customers, as well. There's simply no down-side to making customer listening everyone's job.


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I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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