Volume 9, Issue 3 - June/July 2007

Customer Service
tips for quality service

So, Who’s in Charge?
by Carl Tompkins

Everyone knows companies need good things to happen to them. If I were to make a list of such “good things,” it would fill all of the pages in this magazine. 

Many of my previous articles focused on helping you identify the subjects of the list of good things and how best to take full advantage of each. My purpose is to define clearly and help you avoid the one stumbling block common within each “good thing” that is guaranteed to prevent success.

The top roadblock to success: management not taking responsibility. Too often executives forget the quote coined by former United States president Harry S. Truman, who said, “The buck stops here.” President Truman literally had this slogan inscribed on a desk plaque that sat right in front of his desk blotter to provide a constant reminder that it was his job to make things happen. 

This same concept falls onto the shoulders of corporate leadership and, regardless of the size of an organization, anything and everything that happens, or doesn’t happen, falls onto one set of shoulders. 

Who’s Responsible?
In most companies, owners, presidents and chief executive officers (CEOs) represent, by title, the set of shoulders that carry the responsibility of leadership. Unfortunately, they often fall short of understanding this responsibility or don’t fulfill their roles in a manner to adequately support their organizations. 

Look at what happened in the early 1990s when the executive vice president of a company was reviewing the success of a training program. He contended that tens of thousands of dollars had been invested to train more than 800 people who failed to provide any increase in business. In attendance was a representative from the consulting firm who had provided the course materials, along with a question, “How did you enjoy the training course and how are you doing in implementing the new skills provided?” The vice president stated that his job was to fund the course and it was his H.R. department’s job to make it happen. Not so!

What should have happened? Consider the experience that occurred at another large company. This firm hired a consultant to provide its employees training on customer service skills. Prior to signing any contracts, the consultant insisted on meeting with the CEO of the organization and identifying his role within the course to ensure results. According to the consultant, quite a debate ensued. It came down to the consultant refusing to take on the assignment if the CEO failed to be first to complete course attendance and certification. The CEO gave way, completed the course and his company succeeded.

The Corporate Pyramid
If the buck stops with you, first realize the shape of your company when we refer to the “corporate pyramid.” So often, people think that the CEO or owner sits at the very top of the pyramid and that all other employees are positioned at some supporting point below. Again, not so! For the sake of accuracy and effect, the pyramid must be inverted to where the top point lies at the bottom of the picture. 

As one company president stated at a recent course I conducted for his team of customer service representatives (CSRs), “You are the most important people in our organization and much more important than I am because you meet and deal with our customers more than anyone else in our entire company.” 

This attitude creates the urgency for management to first pay close attention to those who can make the greatest impact on creating profitable business.

The second note of instruction is to realize that supporting employees’ success goes well beyond the approval and funding of any “good thing” projects. While approval and funding are part of the equation, management must participate! 

If the project involves training, management should be first through the course to set the stage for others to follow. Such an example indicates commitment and provides management the knowledge to conduct permanent follow-up with all employees to reinforce the implementation of new ways of conducting business. 

Keeping in Touch
Having introduced the need for follow-up, owners/CEOs need to conduct reviews on a regular basis with their direct-reporting employees to assess the progress of all projects. 

This accomplishes two things. First, it demonstrates the serious nature of the topic and that it is not going to disappear from management’s radar screen. Secondly, it sets the example for the rest of the corporate pyramid to follow in terms of conducting the same conversation with their subordinates.

A final and critical element of instruction is for top management to always know what is really going on at the opposite end of its corporate pyramid. Most executives don’t know this because they are too far removed from where the action is and are not getting the full and accurate picture from intermediate levels of management. 

A training course that I once provided had top management saying all the right things to their CSRs who were attending my course on phone selling skills. They were promising support and the provision of whatever equipment they needed to get the job done but failed to realize that morale was the issue of importance. In turn, the team of CSRs held very little respect for their store managers. 

Well, do you think that the store managers were reporting to top management that they were not doing a good job in taking care of their CSRs? The answer is: top management must visit and participate with all levels of employees.

Where Does the Buck Stop?
So, who’s in charge? Yes, the buck stops at the very top of management; that could be an owner, CEO, president or even a department head who makes the ultimate decision on business strategy. When it comes to business results, those who interface with customers with the highest frequency are in charge. Keeping this in mind, top management participates differently and provides the type of support and example that helps teams win championships. 

Carl Tompkins is the Western states area manager for Sika Corp. in Madison Heights, Mich. He is based in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Tompkins opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine. 

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