While I was licking my wounds from my Colts loss in the Super Bowl — by the way, no excuses…the Saints deserved to win…they played and acted like champions – I discovered CBS was also providing an incredible opportunity for us to observe why most companies provide such terrible service to their customers.
Did you watch the program after the Super Bowl? It was the premiere of a new series, “Undercover Boss,” where a leader of a major organization goes incognito to do the work of his front-line employees, who have no idea they are working side-by-side with their CEO or COO.
As you can imagine, the boss learns how hard it is to do the job of his least-paid employees, and gains a new appreciation for their true importance to the organization. The show ends…and we’re all supposed to feel better.
Instead, I think the program provides — in stunning detail — a guide to what is wrong with most organizations today. Leaders have a perfect grasp on balance sheets and EBITDA growth…and are so out of touch with customers and front-line workers they have little idea what’s REALLY going on.
Isn’t it amazing the executive had really no concept how hard the employee’s jobs were — and the workers were so disconnected from the leadership of their company, the COO could work beside them, and they had no idea who he is?
Consider this, from Ken Tucker’s review in “Entertainment Weekly” –
Pretty soon, O’Donnell (COO of Waste Management) was shown vacuuming out portable toilets at an amusement park; picking up trash on a windy day (the night’s true hero, Walter, fired O’Donnell for not being fast enough); and working on a recycling assembly line with a nice woman who had to gobble her lunch down in a 30-minute break and race to clock in after her meal, lest she be docked in her wages.
When his week of back-twinging revelations was complete, O’Donnell summoned his lowly employees to his office and promised various raises and improvements, as well as the establishment of a (groan) “task force” here and there to make sure life improves for his employees.
You know who I felt the worst for? Kevin, the poor middle-management guy O’Donnell hauled in to grill about Sandy’s time-card-punching angst. That guy gets it coming and going: His employees resent him for implementing O’Donnell’s rules, then O’Donnell comes along and busts his chops.
Perhaps I’m out of touch. I’m certainly old-fashioned. I grew up in southern Indiana at a time when the biggest company in our area — Cummins Diesel — had a CEO who had started on the plant floor. However, if you are a business leader who could relate to O’Donnell’s situation…and could see yourself having similar revelations…then you and your business are in serious trouble.
Let’s get it straight —
1) if you don’t know everything you are requiring of your employees, and how they do their jobs — you have no idea what your customers are experiencing
2) if you aren’t thoroughly immersed in the customer experience, your best clients are looking for someone to take your place
3) dissatisfied and disrespected employees create dissatisfied and disrespected customers
How sad is it in business today that a CEO or COO working the jobs of their front-line people is so rare…it can become the television show that follows the Super Bowl?
If you lead a company…get your butt out there with your front-line people and get to work. Serve some customers…create a better experience.
If you do, I’ll bet you’ll find those numbers you care so much about will actually improve. Imagine that.