Most companies have the intention of providing excellent customer experiences. However, most find it difficult to translate those intentions into the cultural fabric of their companies. I like to give companies feedback on how they’re doing — and to see how customer service people deal with feedback. Three recent incidents with employees made me question how well these firms were making this translation:

  • Suits sitting on the floor. Finding an available electrical outlet in O’Hare Airport is a hassle. While looking, I couldn’t help but notice the number of United Airlines customers sitting on the floor, because the outlets in the main thoroughfare were the only ones available . . . some of those people were even in suits. One would imagine that an employee in a truly customer-centric company would be mortified by seeing their customers sitting on the floor like that. When I approached the United Airlines customer service employee to pass a message on to her superiors about it, instead of seeing the problem, she merely gave me a litany of reasons why it wasn’t United’s issue.
  • Call center disconnect. After unexpectedly seeing my monthly phone bill rise, I called up AT&T to find out why. It turned out that the plan’s pricing had expired, the year having run out. As the agent was looking up new options, I was already on the Web site re-evaluating my current needs and assessing prices. When she gave me options and prices, I asked about one of the packages offered on the Web site that seemed perfect. She informed me that the Web packages and prices were only available to new customers, despite the fact that I put the first six digits of my phone number in to get to the section and saw nothing apparent about new customers. My feedback about the site feeling misleading — and concern that new customers were treated better than existing ones — was met with defensive responses and excuses.
  • Boarding idiots. Several times recently, exasperated airlines agents took to the loudspeaker to issue painfully patronizing instructions aimed at the handful of people who can’t follow boarding instructions by group. While most customers are equally annoyed at the idiots in the crowd, agents hardly make matters better by being unpleasant to everyone.

The takeaway from the stories is this: Companies can’t merely state that they are customer-centric; every employee must act customer-centric. Sample sizes of one do not constitute a failure on the part of a company, but these employees demonstrated a profound failure in some of the customer-centric basics, such as listening to customer feedback seriously and treating customers with uniform respect. It certainly made me question what kind of hiring, socializing, and reward systems these companies have in place.  

Firms that seek to translate their customer-centric intentions into actions need to 1) hire staff who are passionate about serving customers; 2) socialize employees to internalize the brand promise to customers and show how that translates into delivering experiences; and 3) reward staff who exemplify that brand promise.

If your company is long on intentions and short on cultural change, check out my new report, “How To Build A Customer-Centric Culture.