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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Apathy -- Do we really want customers?

I recently saw this poster and had to have it so I bought a framed one off eBay the other day. In case you can't read the words in white at the bottom of the poster, it reads,

"If we don't take care of the customer, maybe they'll stop bugging us."

This is both very funny and very sad at the same time. It's very funny because it's so true and it's very sad for the same reason. Now, I don't know any business owners who feel this way about customers, but I have run into many people working for businesses who feel this way -- most of them not ALL the time -- but many of them periodically.

I've heard managers and other leaders say that they're really glad it's "quiet" today so they can get some work done or that they are so busy with customers that they can't get their own tasks taken care of. It's easy to think like this and I have to admit that I've felt that way more than once in my life.

I do think the title of "Apathy" doesn't apply to most people, but the poster does make a point. If we don't take care of our customers, they won't be back. Historically, this hasn't been the case in the medical industry where so many doctors and their staff have felt like the patients needed them more than they needed the patients...and it was often true. However, with healthcare reform being such a hot topic, many medical practices are taking a much harder look at their customer service practices and working to shape up.

What if you determine your office has more than it's fair share of apathetic reactions to customers ("more than fair share" = ANY)? What do you do about it? It's very possible that it's ingrained in the fabric of your office. It's very possible that it's been such a long pattern of behavior that it just seems that this is the way it is.

CULTURE SHIFT time. And it very well may be a tough shift. By having a shift in culture, I mean that the office or organization, as a whole, takes a look at the business and decides to change, at the core, the way things are done. For culture shifts to be successful, they must start at the very top of the team or organization. It's often easier to successfully shift a culture when there's a major change like new leadership. Then the new leader can set expectations at the beginning of how things will run.

Let's say that you've determined that the focus of your group is way too centered on the team than on the customer, meaning policies, procedures, hours, interactions, etc, are designed more for the pleasure of your team. You want to make a change, but you've been around a while so you may be part of the problem. Some people will tell you that "this is the way we've always done it" or "this is what you led us to do". These statements may be true, but when you see a mistake, do you continue making that mistake just because you've always been doing it...even if it was your idea?

So, is it impossible to change the culture to a more customer-centric one? NO. But, as the leader, it's going to take a large commitment of effort to ensure the change takes place. Where do you start?

1. Identify the problem and communicate it to everyone on the team directly.
2. Set expectations for yourself, your other leaders, and your team members.
3. Train all parties as necessary. I find that a lot of times, people know the right things to do, but they're out of practice or just haven't been doing those right things.
4. Observe staff interacting with customers
5. Coach to the behavior you want.
6. Correct, as appropriate and REWARD the same way.
7. Don't be afraid to say "good-bye" to those team members who can't or won't learn the new focus on customers (institute the "Good to Great" approach that Jim Collins laid out and decide who should be "on the bus" and in what seats).

Let's face it. You're in business to make money and you make taking care of your customers and providing them the value they're looking for.

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