A Brutal Self-Critique = Better Service

A client just cancelled on us. In fact, they fired us. Why? Because we provided bad service. Did we take responsibility for the mess-ups we made? Yes. Did we try to salvage the relationship? Yes. Was it enough? No. If I were the client, I would’ve fired us too. Think that is a bit brutally honest for the service king of Optimal? Get used to it—being brutally honest is the only way to truly create and implement the best service processes.

At around the same time as the aforementioned firing, I read an article in the May issue of Business Week that discussed how Marvin R. Ellison, Home Depot’s newly-appointed executive vice-president of U.S. stores, is cutting through corporate clutter to make customer service a priority. His promotion is not a coincidence; according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index, Home Depot has been among the worst-performing retailers over the past several years. Ellison has made it his goal to remove the retailer from this list. He has changed performance reviews so store employees are evaluated almost entirely on customer service, severely slashed corporate email clutter, and enforced a practice called "power hours"—when employees are supposed to do nothing but serve customers.

Ellison (and his ideas) rose to the top because Home Depot’s leadership team was honest with themselves. They were losing money and realized customer service was the missing link. Similarly, losing this client made the Optimal leadership team think. Because our culture operates on an honor system, we were counting on our team to provide the best— all the time. This was not realistic; without feedback, employees become complacent because they have no way to adjust or improve their behaviors. So, we hired Todd, our engineering services manager. His job? To be brutally honest, to be the “bad guy.” He evaluates every engineer-client relationship—from the interaction to the documentation to the solutions implemented—from a service perspective. He is instructed to try as hard as he can to find something wrong. Once the client’s service audit has been completed, Todd generates a report with the findings and recommendations. Areas of weakness are identified and addressed. If significant improvement is not made, termination occurs. Sounds tough, right? It has to be. Exceptional service does not occur without honesty—honesty with employees, honesty with clients, and, most importantly, honesty with yourself.

I want to hear from you! Respond to one, all or none of the questions below. I just want to hear your thoughts! And, if you post a response, be sure to check back for a reply!

  • What do you think of the service audit employee idea? Will it help Optimal to better serve their clients or not? 
  • What does having an internal “auditor” do to the morale of the company? Improvement? Decline?
  • Can you think of another company that has taken a more critical eye toward service? Has it benefitted consumers and/or the organization’s bottom line?