Trust is probably the most important attribute necessary for good relationships.  Whether life partners, family, friends, co-workers, customers, or, given the Brian Williams debacle, even TV news anchors, trust is the linchpin in relationships.

Think about it, Brian Williams, a fine news anchor who was arguably in line with the historic greats like Cronkite, Rather, and Brokaw, has been knocked off his perch and had his entire reputation and trustworthiness virtually destroyed because he couldn’t help himself to just a little more limelight.  His customers, the viewers, cannot trust what he says, and what he says is his product.

What caused this lapse?  What caused Williams to lie?  I will submit that it was something we all fall foul of, immaturity.  Now you might be thinking, “What do you mean immaturity, Williams is a 55 year old man?”  I believe maturity has nothing to do with age, rather, it has everything to do with thinking; it’s a frame of mind that says you are willing to do for others before doing for self.  In Williams’ case, he was more interested in being thought of alongside real heroes than simply being a reporter, see, self-serving instead of serving others…immaturity.

We all do it from time to time, we all think how we can put ourselves in the best light, we all are a little immature at times and I am as guilty as anyone, I’m not debating that; what I am trying to point out is that this immaturity, this continued obsession with self that is prevalent today, is eroding trust all around us and creating broken relationships everywhere.

As a ray of hope though, I do believe that we can begin to change this problem, and we can do it right now by committing to asking ourselves a key question every day, several times a day – am I serving others or am I serving myself?  Think about that, how many times do we do things that really are about putting ourselves first at the expense of others?  Tough stuff for sure, and, as I said earlier, I fall foul of it regularly.  I literally have to remind myself to stop thinking of myself, and act with maturity.  It’s a very humbling experience but a necessary one if we want to better our relationships.

In Brian Williams’ case, all of us onlookers should act with the maturity of forgiveness, and, at the same time, learn the lesson, immaturity (self before others) erodes trust and that erosion can destroy relationships leaving repellant workplaces, confrontational customers, broken families, and contentious communities in its wake.  This lesson that life does not revolve around us is a humbling lifelong pursuit, and it’s one we must move on if we want to build trusting relationships that, in contrast to what was described above, leave a wake of great workplaces, loyal customers, loving families, and peaceful communities.


The Center of Your Business

Does this sound like a scary thought?  Imagine having those confidential company meetings with a customer in the room.

If it sounds scary, why?  Are you making decisions that you know are not in the customer’s favor?  Are you making decisions that, if a customer found out, would make it clear that your company is really jerking them around for your own benefit?

This is one of the big problems today.  Companies walk around touting their customer focus, yet they don’t include the customer in decisions that will affect them (that means almost every decision you make by the way).

Am I suggesting that you call a customer to sit in your boardroom, no, while it might be a great idea for some, it might be impossible for others. What I am suggesting is asking “how will this affect our customer?” in every meeting. Interestingly, I have heard of a company that actually has an empty chair in their meetings with a large sign on it that says “customer.”  This is the seat for the customer.  The way this company sees it, if you are uncomfortable saying something or making a decision in front of the customer, don’t do it or adjust the thinking so that the customer benefits.

As I say over and over, business is solely in business to serve the needs of customers.  This is true of every business, everywhere.  So why make decisions that leave them out?

It’s simple really, keep the customer in the center of your company’s decisions and watch loyalty…and profits…rise.

Service is Not a Call Center

I am very frustrated by how many times I see books and articles about service that are focused on call centers.  It seems we have made call centers how service is defined.  Well, let me be clear, service is something that begins in marketing and goes on for as long as a business and a customer have a relationship.  This focus on call centers is, in my view, one of the reasons why we have such poor service in the first place.

Why? I believe companies who relegate service to a department or a specific part of the customer journey are completely missing the boat.  Think about this. What is the fundamental business of business?  Isn’t it to provide customers with a product and/or service that helps them accomplish something?  Isn’t part of providing that product/service having employees who can explain how the product/service is the best option for customers to achieve whatever they need to achieve?  Isn’t the whole process of consulting with a customer to help them understand the product, delivering it on time, helping them learn to use it, showing them tricks to make it more effective, being there when it fails or breaks, and staying in touch to communicate a new product or an update that will make them even more successful what business is all about? And….isn’t all of that service?

Relegating your thinking of service to a call center is short-sighted at best.  As far as I am concerned, businesses should make everyone in the company the call center.  They should get rid of service departments.  They should make sure every employee understands how their role connects to the customer from the C suite to management to accounting to marketing to sales to shipping to the front line, and every single person should be able to pick up a phone when it rings and talk to a customer.  NO CALL CENTER, NO SERVICE DEPARTMENT….instead, a SERVICE COMPANY where every employee is working together as a customer advocate, protector, and success-maker.

Think about it, what should you change in your business to make it a service company rather than a company with a call center?

Change the Game

I was in a meeting recently where we were making decisions about making changes to certain processes and systems. There were ideas flying with questions about efficiency, cost, and how to train it being stated and contested.  It was a lively discussion and I was as caught up in it as anyone until I had a thought that shut me up.

Although I knew it would throw a monkey wrench in the proceedings, I felt compelled to say it so I interjected that we were forgetting something critical.  Everyone stopped in their tracks and looked up to learn what great insight I had up my sleeve.  What I said brought the discussion to a halt and made us rethink everything.  My thought was simply the fact that we had left out one important person in our discussion, the customer.  We were making all kinds of decisions that would affect them without putting ourselves in their shoes to feel what they would feel.

How many times do you do the same thing?  Making decisions without putting the customer at the center of the conversation is perilous yet companies do it all of the time.  Think about Coca-Cola when they rolled out “New Coke” back in 1985.  The tried and true Coke that so many loved was replaced by what Coca-Cola thought would be a well-received “New” formula that was sweeter and, what they believed, more desired by the contemporary shopper.  This turned into a debacle that forced Coca-Cola to retrace its steps and bring back the original Coke due to a backlash of anger from their tried and true faithful.

Airlines regularly make decisions without any concern for the customer.  Think about it.  Seats are jammed ever closer together, services are reduced, fees added, etc. all without putting the customer in the room.  And what is the result?  People hate, yes hate, airlines for the most part.  Ask people at airports and they will tell you that they feel like captives with no recourse other than to suffer.  If all airline customers would stop flying for a day or two in protest, things would change, I guarantee it.

Is your company putting the customer at the center of your decisions or is profit, cost control, sales, or shareholder value sitting there?  Since the customer is the driver of everything in business, it would seem imperative that they take the center chair in every meeting you have.  If you are adding something in their experience, you should be asking questions about how it will feel or how it will take more time or how it will make things more or less difficult.  Even if you are making decisions that are “back of house” and don’t directly touch the customer, it would seem critical to put the customer in the center and ask how it might affect them, how might it make it more difficult or take more time, etc.

Currently customer centricity is all the rage in the business book world and commands almost 900 titles on Amazon, and although it’s a big topic, it isn’t really that complicated and doesn’t require complex formulas, matrixes or advanced training.  It just requires you to answer this question, “is the customer at the center of your business or not?”  If they’re not, you are at risk of disloyalty and the fickle nature of human passion, not a good thing in business if you want repeat buyers.

Start today, bring it up, ask the question, “what would our customers think, how would they feel?”  Watch the game change.