My latest Real Life Leadership column - The first rule of training is to be a good example - is online. The question comes from Pete Gonzalez who wrote me about the training he does. Having done training of the sort that he is doing, I understand the challenges that he has.
Pete wants to help his co-workers improve their relationships with one another. Especially in the inter-personal dimension of an organization, we have to look at the larger picture to understand what we need to do. I told Pete in an email response that the issue isn't how to train them to treat one another as Customer #1, but rather leadership. I touch on this in the column.
Here's more of what I see.
Leadership is a function of the three dimensions of Ideas, Relationships and Organizational Structure. This is a global view of leadership. The larger picture that shows the broad categories that every leader must address if they are going to be effective.
What I find is that each dimension may be addressed by leaders, but not in a coordinate way. Taking Pete's question that I wrote about in the column, let's see how this works.
There are several ideas floating around the customer service world that are really not about customer service, but about the Relationship dimension. Let's say that in theory, customer service is meeting the needs and expectations of the customer. If my need is to have my watch battery replaced, I want my battery replaced. As the customer, this is what customer service exists to provide me. However, if I'm treated like I don't matter, the customer service "relationship" has hurt the company's ability to provide good customer service.
I am making a distinction between customer service and the relationship that customers have with the service provider.
The service operation to the customer is a function of the Organizational Structure. It is a set of business processes that the company organizes to achieve a specific purpose to fulfill its mission. For many companies that service is accomplished without a personal relationship. For example, when I buy a book from Amazon.com, I never "interact" with a real person. It is all an online software application function.
I make this distinction between the service provided and the relationship because it allows for specific ways for improving both. This is something leaders need to understand. Now back to Pete's problem.
In his email to me he makes the comment that in his company people treat one another with disdain. Pretty strong words. As a customer service trainer, Pete is thinking how within his specific area of responsibility can he make a difference.
Pete, and others, this is precisely the kind of leadership thinking we need in business. You are not treating customer service as simply a function of the organizational structure. You are seeking to integrate that organizational function with the relationship dimension. This strengthens the value of what you do for the company. If you are able to improve the collaborative interaction of co-workers, it does flow out to your company's customers. The question comes back to how do I do this so they "get it."
Smart customer service providers understand that you have to discern what exactly the customer wants. This discernment is a function of good communication skills. I view communication as a part of the Ideas dimension. In our interactions with people, we send all sorts of signals to one another. Some are clear - "I need a watch battery." Others are not, "I'm in a hurry." A good customer service provider will discern the context that the customer is in. It is an intuitive ability that comes from good training, good listening and interaction skills and a clear understanding of the goal of customer service. This goal is a function of the mission of the company which is derived from the Ideas dimension.
My question to Pete is whether there is clarity in the link between the customer service function of the organizational structure, the relationship dimension and the mission of the company.
Is customer service clearly linked to the mission of the company? In the diagram above, you'll see that Mission is the linkage between the Ideas dimension and the Organizational Structure. A mission is simply an idea until it becomes tangibly organized as a structure of business processes.
Is there a clear link between the mission of the company and its people. As the diagram shows, the values of the company are what connect the mission of the company to the people and their interactions with one another and customers.
As a result, a Vision that links all this together is an understanding of the Impact that "these people working in collaborative interaction" can have working within "this specific organizational structure" to achieve "the company's mission."
In Pete's situation, the key is for the leadership of the company to understand that the functioning of their business is not simply a matter of business processes and profit & loss figures. It is understanding that when human interaction is healthy, business processes that serve the customer will function at a higher level of performance.
Leadership is not easy work. It is harder work when leaders fail to understand that they have to see the big picture of the Three Dimensions of Leadership in dynamic interaction all the time. This is the challenge we all have, regardless of the role we have, in creating leadership impact.
You can download a hard copy of the column here.