Undercover CEO is a good idea.

An experience of bad service from a door-to-door transportation company once left me so stunned, I wondered if the CEO of the company had been watching that night, would the driver have performed so poorly?

The transportation company’s driver wasn’t prepared to get to the locations in an order that would make the most sense, save gas for his company, and make the customers in his van happy with his safe and efficient driving. He made it a point to tell us it was a “brand new van” before we set off and that was the last positive thing he said or did.

FragezeichenRight out of the airport the driver got on his cell phone — it was a personal call. Then he began asking passengers about the location of their drop-offs. And it was immediately clear he wasn’t familiar with the area. One of the passengers challenged him by saying “it’s your job to know where these places are.” His response? “This is not my job, I was a service manager for a big company and the bad economy put me here.”

The first drop off was in a large subdivision. The passenger being dropped off had never been to the area before. She had come to town to visit a friend. The driver was agitated that she could not tell him how exactly to get to the house. After much frustration, the passenger got her friend on the phone and she directed the driver to the house.

On our way again, the driver talked negatively to the remaining passengers. “That woman should have had directions, these are big complicated neighborhoods.” A disgusted passenger asked why he wasn’t using GPS navigation. “The van didn’t come with it,” was his reply. We all shook our heads.

To be clear, this was not a young person learning the ways of service. This was an experienced “manager” or should I say, former manager, who clearly did not get that there may have been a reason he was no longer in his last position with that big company.

I called the transportation company as soon as I arrived home. The manager went into full “service recovery mode.” She knew I had a choice; she wanted to keep my business. She refunded the fare and made no excuses. She was fully accountable and appreciated the feedback. I knew from everything she said that the bad driver would be invited to understand what customer service is and how it works or find himself out of a job…again.

Time and time again I hear managers complain that they feel like babysitters, needing to have customer service talks over and over again with employees. Several levels removed from the CEO, managers want more visibility and support from the top about the importance of excellent customer service. And, they know if a CEO had an experiential understanding of frontline jobs and how tough they can be, they’d make the needed changes.

If you are a CEO, how important is customer service excellence? Do you go undercover and randomly call in to different areas of your company to see how the service is? Do you try out the service your company provides from time to time? Are you afraid to interact with the frontline, see what goes on, or let them ask you questions?

You are accountable for all of it. The buck stops with you. If you want employees to own the customer service experience, I contend you have to.

Bank CEOs, get in the teller’s space.  Managing Partners, sit in the cubicle answering insurance policy questions.  Hospital CEOs, do your rounding. Get as close as you can to the front line. And then watch what happens to your insight into the many ways to improve the bottom line through excellence in customer service and support of the most important people who make it happen. They want the bad apples gone, not just warm bodies filling positions. What do you want?

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