Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us

I was reading the USAirways in-flight magazine while flying from Philadelphia to Boston the other day. The issue’s Must Read is anexcerpt from Chapter 1 of the book Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us by Emily Yellin. I thought it was interesting as it is filled with horror stories of how Customer Service treated (or more accurately, mistreated) customers.

Bad customer service is prevalent in almost all industries, institutions and governments, and every individual has their personal stories. I’ve had several encounters in the past few months that were so aggravating and infuriating that I would never do business with them again. But my purpose here is not to whine or complain, but to ask why. Why do businesses choose to treat customers badly and refuse to listen? Yet, everyday they wonder why their products don’t sell and customers don’t come back.

As a Lean Six Sigma professional, I connect everything we do to the Voice of the Customer: Definition of defects, CTQs, 7 types of waste, etc. No tool or concept can help us improve our business better than understanding customer needs. It seems painfully obvious that every customer interaction is an opportunity to learn about the market and improve the business. Market leaders use such deep understanding of customer needs as a strategic weapon to develop superior products, customer intimacy, and operational excellence.

There are some commonly mentioned causes for poor customer service, such as focus on cost, wrong measure of performance, functional silos, or simply not caring (because of monopoly). Is such a problem an opportunity to introduce Lean Six Sigma to the organization or an indicator that Lean Six Sigma deployment would likely fail? Is Lean Six Sigma a solution in these organizations? Or is Lean Six Sigma even compatible to the culture and management of such organizations? I’d like to hear about your experience.

Comments 2

  1. Naddir M Patel

    Why do businesses choose to treat customers badly and refuse to listen

    Because they can get away with it; either due to lack of competition or governmental lethargy at not redressing consumer complaints.

    In Canada cellular companies blatantly rip off customers by charging 10 times more than a consumer pays in India, for example.

    The telephone waiting time to redress a customer complaint is often 40 minutes or more.

    Some television broadcasters mounted a campaign to tax the consumers for viewing free to air channels.

    In Calgary, world class airlines are not allowed in, forcing the consumer to pay 30% more for equivalent flight distance fares from the US.

    Certain auto manufacturers’ like Toyota actively ensure that the Canadian pays 25-30% more than US residents for the same car.
    Other companies like Whirlpool do not validate the warranty of their own product bought in US.

    The spirit of NAFTA ,of bringing economies of scale to one giant common market has been effectively gutted by these unscrupulous companies.

    The equalizer is Market forces; an example being BC residents who now shop in the US on a regular basis.

  2. Fang Zhou

    Thanks, Naddir. Unfortunately, there are too many bad businesses. Lack of competition definitely is a cause of poor quality/service. Global competition has helped to some extent but not enough. In the name of job creation or preservation, bad regulation doesn’t help either.

    Even companies trying to focus on customer value and service could be separated into two groups: 1) those that want to (because of their value/mission) and 2) those that have to (because that’s what can make money for them).

    I would argue that Lean Six Sigma is only compatible with the former, not the latter, because LSS is a philosophy, not tools, and requires a long-term commitment of an organization and their people to think and behave with a customer focus. For the latter group, as soon as the market conditions become favorable, they will stop caring about customers or doing LSS.

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