A few months ago, I had an issue with my office software. I needed to upgrade the system I was using and transition from one cloud storage system to another, along with transferring my subscription to a different set of office software packages. Being an independent consultant, I have to wear many hats, including that of IT specialist for my business. While the changeover would probably not be considered complex for most businesses, for me it was a bit challenging and I was concerned about a loss of data, inaccessibility to my email, and time-consuming discussions (chats or calls) with remote support staff that might not be helpful.

My fears, especially with the last point, turned out to be realized. I started the discussion of my needs with one customer service person, and soon found out that because the office system involved several specific products, I had to speak with several different people about my transition rather than just one person who could speak to and handle all the questions associated with the entire suite. The whole process took parts of 3 business days. In the end, I did some research on the web, and found a solution that I could largely implement on my own for one of my key needs, and I was left to wonder why the customer service person could not have suggested this approach to me and saved us both a lot of time and pain.

Setting aside the (major) issues related to how this company’s customer service is organized, I began to think about how many organizations in general think about customer service.

People in customer service are often the primary or sole face of the company to the customer. Their demeanor, knowledge, problem solving ability, perceptiveness to ascertain the customer need, and the emotional intelligence to respond appropriately are paramount to representing the company effectively. All we have to do is read the news to verify how important their skills (or lack thereof) are – how many public relations disasters has United Airlines faced in the past 18 months relative to flight attendant or agent customer service? If an organization espouses customer service as so important to its business, why is it that many of these roles are paid the least within an organization, experience the highest employee turnover, and are considered to be “entry level” roles? It seems that the further one is promoted up the hierarchy, the further one gets away from interacting directly with the customer.

I am dumbfounded that organizations put as many roadblocks as possible between the customer and an actual person who can help. I’ve experienced phone “menus” that take 5 or 6 prompts (or more) before you can actually speak to someone who can take care of the issue. This is of course assuming the company will actually take calls rather than “online chats” which can take even more time, be less effective and seem less personal.

Additionally, why don’t we pay more attention to what the people on the front lines (or actual customers) have to say, and what they need? In my example above, I would have LOVED for one of the executives of the software company to have sat through my experience on the phone and listened to my repeated interactions and repetitive conversations about my situation. Yes, many companies do record service calls and send instant surveys about the customer experience – your recent hotel stay, last flight, or whatever the experience may have been. However, I don’t know about you, but I rarely fill these surveys out, because I don’t really believe anyone pays attention to the results, and with good reason. After my experience above, I received a survey about the software transaction service, and I decided to take the time to provide a thoughtful, candid, but rational response. Did I ever hear one word back, acknowledging my situation, and what would be done to help ensure other customers would not suffer the same experience? Of course not.

On the other hand, some organizations focus so much on the survey ratings that they become worthless as a means of providing useful feedback. I have had many organizations (for example, where I take my car in for service) that practically demand you give them a “5” (out of 5) on their service survey, because they apparently have a fear of getting beat over the head if they get a score that’s less than perfect. (Watch the movie “The Circle” for another example).

I know there are many examples of organizations that do an excellent job of taking care of the customer. But, my belief is that they are the exception, because when I do have one of these great experiences, it stands out to me as a rarity.

The next time you experience poor service, keep in mind that the individual serving you is not trying to wreck your day, but rather is part of a poorly designed (or executed) system that has lost sight of the connection between employee contribution and engagement to higher customer service levels. If we want our front-line staff to “own” the customer relationship and make good decisions, then we have to start by treating our staff like true owners of the business and give them the responsibility, accountability, tools, training, guidance and rewards they deserve.