A Baffling Double Standard

Here’s one that has confounded me for a long time. Maybe you can help me wrap my head around it:

Why do so many companies provide such terrible customer experience when their leaders more or less dwell in five-star service themselves?

Say you’re CEO of a sizable company. Chances are you’re making $5 million, $8 million, $12 million dollars a year or more. When you travel, you stay in the finest hotels, where they spoil you rotten. You fly only first class, or maybe you have your own jet and your own flight crew. You have a company limo with a chauffeur whenever you need it. You live in a mansion or a penthouse, and you have servants. Someone shops for you, except when you need a new suit: then the tailor and his assistants come to you and fit you in your office.

Every minute of every day, you are being treated like a monarch. You understand top-notch customer service because you receive it all day every day.

…And yet your customers cannot say the same. No one spoils them. Often, no one at your company is even nice to them! You make them wait in lines at your stores or branches. Calling your company is one of the most frustrating experiences they’ll face all month. Your sales people beat them up in contract negotiation, or stalk them, or both; the fine print in your contracts would make the Devil blush for its audacity. And because you abuse your employees as badly as you do your customers, they flee quickly, which means your customers never deal with the same person twice.

This discrepancy, between the five-star experience as a customer that most C-level executives live, and the two- or three-star service their companies foist on their customers, has always bewildered me.

Can any CEOs out there explain it? I am truly at a loss on this one.

Graphic by Shawn Murphy

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Dr. Lisa McCool

    Awesome question to contemplate! Thanks!

  • Steve Borek

    It all begins at the top

    For example Zappos. Selling shoes online doesn’t sound like a profitable idea. In order to be different, their brand was built on exemplary service. There slogan is “Powered by service.”

    This brand was created by the CEO, Tony Hsieh.

    The way your people go about their work, treat their customers, etc is a reflection of leadership.

    With so many choices today, we’ll choose the company that wows us.

  • Mitch Mitchell

    A major part of the issue is that the CEOs of major companies don’t take the time to check out their own product all that often. I’m thinking the show Undercover Boss has proven that CEOs need to get out of the office more and check on their operations, or send someone else to do it undercover so they can see what’s going on. They also need to learn to connect with employees at all levels of their company and express the values the company says they have to those employees. If employees don’t see upper management living those values, they sound hollow.

  • Alan Kay

    Good question. My view is that a) CEO’s can still make profit happen means other than paying attention to the customer and b) they simply don’t know how to organize their company around the customer. Hence, my blog current post (into which I slipped a link to your post), ‘Leaders: Get Your Organization to Put the Customer at the Centre of Your Business’ http://frymonkeys.com/?p=1688

  • Greg Marcus

    I think this is a question of values and priorities. Values are demonstrated by actions, and it is pretty clear what is important to a CEO lives a five star lifestyle, and gives his or her customers a 2 star experience.

    Remember the movie Heathers? From the 80s or early 90s, about mean high school girls. One girl says to another “Why are you such a megabitch?” Answer “Because I can be.”

  • Susana Kawai

    Hello Ted, from a customer service point of view and you know this already, but I experienced this myself: Lack of training for a five diamond, a company wants to achieve that, but the management of that company does not really understand five diamond and you are forcing your entire staff to achieve that. Lack of motivation, no leaders by example, low pay, the staff is not treated as five diamonds, they are treated as three diamonds and they have to understand five diamonds, when they never saw a five diamond environment. The product itself might be high quality, but the environment might not be, for example, a beautiful hotel in a bad location. So much to talk about customer service…Greetings.

  • There’s a more human way to do business.

    In the Social Age, it’s how we engage with customers, collaborators and strategic partners that matters; it’s how we create workplace optimism that sets us apart; it’s how we recruit, retain (and repel) employees that becomes our differentiator. This isn’t a “people first, profits second” movement, but a “profits as a direct result of putting people first” movement.

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