Customer relationship management is something that everyone talks about and frontline staff are usually over trained in this area. I run a number of these workshops each year and it was during a second CRM workshop with the same customer when I realised that very little of what I have taught on a previous visit was actually implemented. This led me to the idea of teaching companies on how to lose their customers. At least in this way, they can be really good at what they do; especially since losing customers seems to be the favourable option to many companies…
Having trained thousands of people in the area of customer service, I was able to come up with six excellent ways of losing customers. That’s right, six fool proof ways that will ensure that you lose your customers without delay. Not only do my methods work, but they work fast. If you apply these methods with discipline and consistently, your company could close down within the next six months. Here is my secret formula…
Internal focus is the first and most dynamic way of swiftly losing customers. The secret is to create a company culture which has a much bigger focus on what’s going on inside the organization than what’s goes on outside. Employees must be taught, from the onset, to focus on promotions, internal politics and pleasing their managers. You need to impress many people, have lots of ‘Highly Confidential’ files on you table, and attend endless meetings. If you want to climb the ladder of status and importance, you need to play the game right. To do this you need to move in the right circles, and say the right things to the right people. The playing field is set in the world of strategic sessions, task teams and work-groups, a sure recipe to get nothing done. But then again, it’s not about getting something done or about client service, since these things simply won’t add to your importance. Being important is at the core of an internally focused company’s needs. How many times have we become frustrated with the front desk attendant who puts up the ‘CLOSED’ sign at exactly 5 seconds to 10, “I’m sorry its teatime, you have to come back at 10:30”. My frustration becomes her delight. One cannot help to wonder that if her senior manager had to descend from the 17th floor to request a specific service; if she would have put up the ‘CLOSED’ sign in his face. Highly unlikely! You see her future is dependent on the way she treats her superiors and not the way she treats her customers. With us, the mere paying customers, her importance is derived from the power of demonstrating her control. Customers have the power to kill or grow a company. The way you treat them will secure their choice. Thus, to lose your customers simply focus on the inside.
The success of any entrepreneur is embedded within one word, SURVIVAL. Therefore, to lose your customers, you need to get really comfortable. Believe that you are too big, too strong and too experienced to go down. Even better, believe that since you are a government department, you can never close shop, as the kings and queens of the past did of course. We, the customers, are the lifeblood of your enterprise. We are the guardians of your mission. If you do not meet our every specific need, you will not survive. And where you do not deliver, your competition will kill you. In a private enterprise your competition are those who are prepared to serve us better; and in the public service, your competition is an idea or ideology. You might tell me that your sponsorship is guaranteed, and yes, keep believing that. In government, departments rarely close down, even long after their reason for existence has expired. They are often artificially kept alive, like a brain-dead patient on a heart and lung machine. But ideas, ideologies and software solutions will assassinate you with amazing ease. Keep on doing what you did yesterday and an angel of irrelevance will soon fill your vacant post. Intensity of competition creates effective organization. So then, keep on doing nothing, as you are doing now. You can stay as long as you like, but without doubt, your customers will not do the same.
There are amazing internal benefits of not delivering. Yes, it pays to be ineffective. I know a man by the name of Joe who has recently been appointed to distribute toilet paper throughout Babalingwe Pty (Ltd). His job is simple. He needs to get three quotations and then make the necessary arrangements with the cheapest supplier. His work includes delivery of toilet rolls to the various departments, where a store clerk will issue them to the different toilets. For Joe to be effective is easy. However, the question is not whether he can be effective, but rather what’s in it for him? In which ways will Joe benefit from the effective distribution of toilet paper? The answer; not very much! On the contrary, if he continues doing his work in this manner, chances are good that he will stay a clerk for life. The secret of climbing the ladder to bureaucratic success, is to create an empire. Success in large organisations do not lie in the deliverance of Service Excellence, but rather in your ability to create internal dependency. The first step for Joe will be to complicate communication, since this will enhance the level of dependency which the company has on him. Lots of people within all departments now have to interact with Joe. From now on it’s not just a matter of ordering toilet paper. No, no, no. You must place an order on form ToiP6660PK. This form then needs to be sent to the authorization office where form ToiP837494K09JL will be issued. Once signed by two clearance clerks, the order can go through to the final approval office where a ToiP854758J00ML form will be issued and stamped by the senior approval clerk (who is in meetings most of the time). I think at this point you will agree that Joe cannot cope anymore. What he needs is staff, lots of them. Once he has staff he will need to appoint managers and get a personal assistant. Soon Joe will be appointed as the Director of toilet paper, and before long he will be running a toilet paper head office. His reason of existence will be entirely based on functional incompetence. You might think that this example is outrageous, but think again and you might just identify a number of Joe's in your own organisation. I remember just a few years back, a news announcement was made, reporting that police officials were to be given extra allowance for working in high crime areas. Really? Why would these Police Officials want to reduce crime especially if, high crime equals better pay. To lose your customers, keep rewarding incompetent people and keep sponsoring internal empires that were built on nothing more than perceptual dependency.
Do not underestimate the power of complication. It is your tool to domestic power, and a very powerful virus that eventually secures organisational demise. Maybe the term ‘skills monopoly’ is somewhat more politically correct. This reminds me of Susan, a lady who worked with leave forms. Only she knew how to complete them, and when she was not there, nobody went on leave. Complicating things to the extent that only one person knows how to deal with it, makes the organization incredibly dependent on that individual. The power that this dependency holds is highly seductive. We often hear people boosting about the fact that the whole place will fall apart in their absence. These are the bureaucratic knights of your organisation. They love to invent official forms, and create protocols and structures that nobody understands. They demonstrate their superiority through quoting policies and procedures off by heart. Of course we need people who ensure that rules and regulations are met. But where focus creates dependency, the aim is always to become indispensable. And where employees are indispensable, they become more important than customers; a sure way for service excellence to collapse. To lose your customers, complicate things, to the extent where unravelling red tape has taken prominence to your actual purpose.
Employee motivation is a big thing. We give incentives for excellent work and pay bonuses where you make sales or exceed expectations. Yet, when I get to the front desk, Steve spends more time on impressing Rebecca, his boss, than giving me good service. The reason, I found, was that giving me good service was not part of Steve’s KPI’s. There is thus absolutely no reason for Steve to provide me with customer delight. What’s in it for Steve? Why should he give me excellent service? Management tries their best by sending out motivational letters, providing customer service training, and mounting glossy service excellence posters on company walls. Statements such as, “It’s our company and we should be proud of it”, or “We all need to work together to achieve success” are advocated with increasing crescendo. But, customer service training and motivational messages do not put bread on Steve’s table. Neither does providing good customer service. The antithesis, of course, is that feeding his manager's ego will definitely ensure Steve’s bonus. If you want someone to be more effective, you need to make it worth his or her while. Service excellence will not get Steve promoted, or make him more important, or ensure more money, or give him more benefits. What Steve must do is make his manager feel important, significant and even omnipotent, if that is the command. To lose your customers, stimulate a performance system where employees will have no reason to provide customer delight. Make them bow to their managers, who, in the greater scheme of things, are not only more replaceable but also less influential than the frontline who will eventually produce the bottom line.
Power without authority leads to dictatorship and authority without power leads to demoralisation. Of course, both will rid you from your customers, but here I would like to focus on authority without power. This is the case where a high earning director cannot authorize the purchase of a date stamp. Better even is the case of a frontline employee who cannot give me discount, replace my product or sort out my problem. It says on her desk plate “Customer Service Desk”, but apparently such service is limited to three restricted things that she can do. Large organisations have many positions and posts, but when it comes to making a decision the buck stops nowhere. The power to authorize is usually shifted from office to office, using every trick in the book to avoid responsibility. I need to get the green form from the blue office, and then return to the purple office where I must fill in the orange form, which must be authorised at the brown office who will issue a pink form which I can then hand in at the red office (round and round we go, no start or end, just stepping out or giving up). To get the simplest thing done can take months, or sometimes even never. To lose your customers, it is of utmost importance that you authorise your employees with titles such as customer service representative, floor manager, supervisor, etc. But never empower them. Dress them as the batsman but never throw them a ball. And of course, do not trust them. You know, that only you know, how to do stuff…
Now that you know the six secrets, go fort and lose those customers… Let them feel helpless and dependent, and I can promise with certainty, that they will go. It works…
This article is adjusted from my 2006 article “The Six Poisons of Government Service”.
© 19 October 2015
© 2015 Derek Hendrikz
Kind of a reverse phsycology, and it really makes you think how much time is wasted on what could have been a better and more productive outcome. Still I believe it should be a win-win-win scenario; entity, internal customer (employees wellbeing ) , external customer (service satisfaction). Thanks for the insight Derek.
Hi Sami, and thank you for working through the article. I agree that there should be strong benefit to both sides (people who work in the organisation and those who sponsor such).
I totally agree with the article, specially rule number 1 as we always focus on pleasing our management instead of customer and priorities their need on customer request.
Hi Safaa, and thank you for the feedback. This is something that must be managed diplomatically, since management does not always realize how big of a role they play in customers that defect.
Interesting article Derek !.....just do only 50% of those steps and the company will shut down in 3 months ! ....interesting read
Derek, your article is very insightful however, many organizations and employees are trapped in the quandary of organizational politicking for personal aggrandisation and survival as opposed to strategising on how to serve their customers better.
"The puzzle of who butters the bread, Customer or Boss"
Thank you for the feedback Paul. What you say is true and companies can continue doing so, but instead of focusing there efforts to the inside, they can do so externally. You can achieve you personal agendas whilst getting involved with customer politics and developing external strategy. Hence, they can continue doing what they do now, but at a different place.
In terms of , "Who butter the bread?...", well, that is a matter of focusing performance management at the right place. People will focus on that which secures their own survival. If KPI's and performance rewards are focused on customer service, employees will follow suit.
Thanks for the insightful topic, its emphasizes the importance of aligning organisation vision and processes with the the customer's need. is very important to implement process flows that deliver great customers service and donot stifle customer service T.A.T .
The organisation should be able to outserve the customer, this will lead to customer loyalty thus generation of more business.
Thanx for the feedback Nicholas. Jip, agree. We can outperform our customers by providing an excellent Customer Value Proposition (CVP).
Very interesting article..specially the part about focusing on the inside..made me think about what me and my colleagues do..it's true many times we are more focused about what we do instead of what the customers want..
Thank you for the comment and for reading the article Mohammed. It is true that we often focus more on our internal actions than on what customers need.
Interesting article.. I liked the reverse way (mentioning ways to loose customers instead of mentioning the proof ways to retain customers), however it might be confusing for some especially if they are not familiar with the topic in general.
I would like to add to number one (Focus in inside), IGNORE yr customer, as customer is always want to feel him self as the most VIP and special customer and always want his needs to be on your top priorities list.
Hi Leena, and thank you for the comment and for reading the article. I do agree, ignoring your customer is a sure way of getting them to never come back
I liked how this article is written. I guess we can use this article to maintain the relationship with the customers by doing the six steps oppositely.