Don’t blame service on the employees

Next time you’re on the other end of this call, remember: It’s likely the system, not the employee, that’s driving you crazy.

Authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss admit their message is largely intended for the “C-suite” – those invisible stuffed shirts, constantly implementing policies that make it harder to do your job. But their latest book, “Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business,” still holds plenty of wisdom for the little guy.

As operations management specialists, Frei and Morriss have devoted five years  to analyzing bad customer service. And they’re here to deliver the good news: It’s not your fault, employees!

“We might blame employees because we’ve had bad interactions with them, but, as far as we’ve observed, it’s essentially never the employee’s fault. It’s the fault of the people who designed the management system,” says Frei, who also serves as the chair of the MBA program at Harvard. “Too often companies desire to do everything well, and they create a kind of exhausted mediocrity. 
Employees can’t do everything well: When you optimize a system to be both best in class at speed and best at thoroughness, you’re going to wind up being average at both.”

The expert pair admits this is tough medicine for most executives. But they preach a natural yin and yang of service: In order to excel in the area that’s most important to your customers, you might have to be not so good in less important areas.

“Service isn’t always about trying harder. We found that the psychic barriers are harder to get over than the operational or financial barriers,” explains Morriss. “It’s hard when you’re a type-A manager to make peace with the idea that you’re not going to be great at everything.”


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