Are They Being Served?

How well are your customers being served? Can you be sure that everyone who uses your product or service, or who comes into contact with your organisation gets the best possible experience they can?

Some organisations (and sadly many that are there to be in the ‘public service’) rarely (perhaps never) discuss this in senior management meetings. Others do talk about it from time-to-time and conclude that things are fine or that “we’re no worse than others like us”. The very best organisations though, think through what their customers want, how they can best provide this and then the leaders work relentlessly to make sure that that experience is being delivered to customers every time.

We were reminded again of this challenge to delight customers just last week. Ross reports:

“I have long been a huge fan of Sky as a company. Not so much for the programming (with two sports-mad boys and a daughter partial to the odd hour of US trash TV we get good value for money), but for the service. When we first switched to Sky in 2001, the whole process was slick, attentive and friendly. I raved to colleagues and friends about this, especially as I spent a lot of time talking to senior executives in telecoms and media about how best to market and sell their products.

“Then, on Thursday, I telephoned Sky to order an additional Sky Plus box. It was awful. In 43 minutes, I had spoken to 5 different call centre staff, in 3 different locations. I had the full set of my personal details taken twice. Eventually, I was given a price for the new box – and that turned out to be more expensive than advertised!

“What really got me though, was the attitude of one of the customer service agents when I couldn’t remember my password (I didn’t even recall that I had one, I hadn’t used it in 6 years, and I am a man after all). He told me off for this, demanded that I set a new one and warned me not to forget it again. That was me put in my place.”

Now, of course, you will all probably have similar tales to tell. So why do so many organisations find this so hard to do? Or lose it, like Sky, with the passing of time? And yet others demonstrate that keeping customers happy can be done?

We were reminded of the ‘moment of truth’, a concept that became really popular about three or four years ago in management writings (search “moment of truth customer” in Google if you want to read more). The idea is that every time we come in contact with a customer, we either make a good or bad impression for our organisation. But critically, there will be some occasions when we as customers have greater than usual amount of emotional energy invested in the outcome – when we are entering into a contract, when we are buying something significant (in price or value), when we are sick and using health services or when we are trying to get something fixed urgently. These give rise to the moments of truth – when customers form their strongest and most persistent view of the organisation they are dealing with.

Most of these moments of truth involve simple personal contact with staff who are on the front line of an organisation – working at reception, on the wards, in call centres, out in the field engineering or sales force.

The lessons from the work in this area suggest two things. First, don’t rely on technology to get this right for you. Sky had made a simple call centre process complex and into the bargain had stripped their frontline staff of the ability to be flexible, to respond to the specifics of the situation, to use their capabilities to take decisions for themselves or to act with initiative to keep the customer happy.

Secondly, is understanding the experience of customers that use your products and services and then taking the steps to get this right. This is an issue for the boardroom and for every member of the senior management team. You can’t delegate responsibility for this – it’s at the heart of what every organisation should be about.

Many senior executives complain that it’s too difficult – how can we get everyone in contact with the customer to do the right thing?

Well, in watching those organisations that get it right, managers do two things. They help their people relate to customers better through raising an awareness of emotional intelligence (‘EQ’) – cultivating an interest in understanding, empathising with and being compassionate to others. This gives frontline jobs real meaning and goes beyond logical structures and processes to focus on learning by experience of what really works. The second thing they do is to model the desired behaviour themselves.

Ross concludes: “After my experience with Sky, I rang Virgin Media. The experience was OK (you thought I was going to say it was perfect!). But it was good enough though for me to switch. I haven’t had the heart yet to ring up Sky and tell them we’re leaving…”

A Couple of Updates


Our early July seminars on climate ( with Dr Stephen Peake got a fabulous response. Our sessions were appreciated by novices and experts alike. We engaged people in the evidence and then used a ‘scenario planning approach’ to explore the 4 main schools of thought on climate. We have had rave reviews for this approach from science sceptics and climate crusaders. Let us know if you are interested in a session in your organisation or with your team.


Some of you know of our interest in promoting compassion in health services. For us this message is part of the challenge to be customer-focused outlined above. We were delighted with the session we supported at the NHS Confederation meeting in June: We are both pleased (and a little concerned) with the profile this ‘C’ word now has in the NHS. We encourage health sector leaders to think how they encourage this feature at all levels. We are dismayed when we hear of NHS organisations over-focused on the faux commercialisation of contracting, and not the most useful insight from leading private companies: i.e.: the commitment and methods for understanding and meeting customer interests and needs.

Lexicon for Leaders: Knowledge

Understanding what a group knows and getting motivated to use that insight, the wisdom of others as well as creating new ideas or products is at the heart of all enterprises. It is essential for a customer-focused organisation.

Do see our online diagnostic ( to explore your individual and team-based commitment to learning, sharing knowledge and wider innovation. This tool can be made into specific client surveys for 360 degree individual feedback or a group insight into the culture of a particular organisation.

(n.b.: If you are missing our 2x2 of the month feature, do the survey and you will find a fresh take on an earlier diagram!)

If you missed the previous editions of our briefings, you can find them here.

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