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Are Internal Procedures Sabotaging Customer Service?

Observations on Airport Communication and Customer Service

In a recent travel escapade, a couple found themselves in a situation at the rental car counter that illuminated the often-neglected facets of customer service. As seasoned travelers accustomed to a streamlined process as preferred customers, they were taken aback by the sight of a throng of people lined up at the rental counter, completely unaware that they should have headed straight to the rental car lot across the street. They understood that airports each have their unique procedures, so they reluctantly joined the queue, oblivious to the unnecessary detour they were embarking on.

After enduring a wait of over 30 minutes, the couple finally reached the counter, only to be greeted with surprising news from the clerk, who remarked, "Oh, you're preferred customers. You should go straight to the lot." When they voiced their confusion about the absence of any signage, the response was unexpectedly nonchalant, "Our sign broke."

One couldn't help but ponder why a makeshift sign hadn't been hastily erected as a temporary solution until a new one could be arranged. The reason offered was quite unexpected: "We can’t do that. The corporate Quality Assurance officer could arrive at any moment, and they require us to have professional signs. We can't afford to lose points."

This exchange underscored a prevalent issue in companies—a tendency to prioritize internal procedures and protocols at the expense of their primary purpose: serving customers. In this case, the insistence on a "professional" sign eclipsed the crucial need to furnish clear information promptly to the customers.

On their return to the airport a few days later, the couple discovered a spanking new, unquestionably professional-looking sign proudly occupying its place. However, the damage to the car rental company's reputation was already tainted. Will the couple change companies? It's possible, even likely.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

In a similar story from years ago, a car insurance company was working to improve customer satisfaction scores. After hours of discussing ways to tighten up their internal procedures, someone asked, "What's the real goal here?" Everyone agreed: "The customers want their claims paid faster."

No, the customers don't want their claims paid faster; that's an internal problem. Customers want their cars fixed.

"Inside-out" thinking is a challenge faced by virtually every company. They need to see the world as it is—from the customers' points of view. "Outside-in" thinking reveals the vital importance of prioritizing customer-centricity over inflexible procedures, of zeroing in on the overarching customer experience.

It's a lesson that resonates across industries—everyone needs to be attuned to the customer experience. This mindset shift can be a game-changer in businesses, transcending the confines of any specific domain or sector. After all, at the heart of every enterprise lies the imperative to serve, and that mission begins with effective, customer-oriented communication.


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