When great talent is leaving an organization, it’s a strong signal that the company doesn’t feel they have anything of value to contribute. Conversely, when brown-nosers and politicos are being promoted, you have a culture with the wrong value system. The importance placed on customers is a key measure.

December 2007 was the official start date of the U.S. Great Recession. Most of the Western world has felt the effects. Every day we all read about countries and organizations that are in trouble or going under. It’s common knowledge that business isn’t as easy as it once was.

So why is it that very few corporate leaders are making important decisions for the long-term success of their organizations?

Isn’t it simple common sense that any leader would want to do all that he or she could to encourage the growth and ongoing success of the organization? Yet, almost weekly, we hear stories about another business leader who has decided that customer care isn’t the greatest priority.

All the evidence says this is a simple choice: For growth, provide customer service. Or die.

Case study

An executive I know works at a large cable company based in Florida. He’s in charge of customer service, but he’s also one of the best customer advocates I’ve ever come across. (Not all customer service executives are, by the way.) The cable industry has a reputation for crappy service, but this guy is good and his customers agree that they get great service according to all the surveys they run.

Customer service is, for him, a real passion. It’s not just a job. He’s the kind of guy who buys the famous Zappos book for all his team supervisors and then has an offsite meeting to discuss with everyone about how to treat customers like people you care about. During that meeting, which I was invited to attend, he made this point:

Customers aren’t just outside the company. We have internal customers too. Everyone who relies on you or your team to do their job is a customer. It’s critical that we treat all our customers well.

I’m certain that if there were more executives like him in charge of decisions affecting customers we’d be doing much better as a country.

Unfortunately, most executives don’t get it. Or — perhaps worse — they do get it, but they don’t want to invest in it.

These bosses try to “save their way to success.” As a result, they’re causing some great organizations to become failures.

Noodle about the airlines today: Once-solid organizations are now just hollow marketing messages. For example, take Delta Air — they seem to be running a huge increase in their ad spending year over year to tell everyone about their new dedication to customer care. Everyone except their own team leaders that is.

Or consider HP, once the premier leader in looking after their clients and, at the same time, fostering innovation and calculated risks. They’ve been in a tailspin since 1999 when marketing guru Carley Fiorina was brought in to head it up.

Subsequent leaders have continued to strip the “care” out of that organization, and the results show it.

Here’s the lesson for anyone who makes any kind of decision in any organization:

If you want to change the trajectory of a sinking organization, first treat your clients and your employees with respect. Then encourage great relationships with both. You’ll be amazed at the power you harness.

The alternative is to wait for the economy to turn around — and how’s that working for you?


Leadership Coach