The Perils of Disconnect… (Operationally Speaking)

In an earlier post, I brought up the subject of Operational Friction. In this entry, I would like to address a more dangerous business condition, ‘Operational Disconnect’.
Where ‘friction’ implies the need for some adjustment or lubrication, ‘Disconnect’ means something is really broken and will take significant effort to fix. We more commonly experience this with large corporations and government entities. However, It can also happen in smaller companies with more immediate and dangerous consequences.
Here some examples of what I call disconnect:

  1. Marketing materials and salespeople tout high quality and on-time delivery. What the customer actually experiences, however, is late deliveries and all-too-often defective products.
  2. Outstanding customer service is part of the message, but when the customer calls they end up yelling at a poorly designed automated attendant (as much as I hate to admit it, I have done that…), then they are put on hold with lousy music or annoying ads and are dealt with in a rote, impersonal manner by someone who can’t take care of a problem that doesn’t match the checklist. On top of that, they have to call back multiple times to find out where things are at and make sure things don’t get lost in the cracks.
  3. The Mission Statement includes the sentence ‘Our Customers’ or ‘Our People are our most important asset.’ Yet when you look into things, you find that no one is really listening to ‘our customers or ‘our people’ about what is really going on and how to do things better.

So how do you address Disconnect? It can be as challenging as having to change an ingrained culture. At the very least, it requires significant operational changes that allow points of Disconnect to be identified, followed with the will to implement changes that eliminate it. For instance:

  1. Define and monitor the metrics that will help you identify and manage trends in areas that often turn to Disconnect, such as on-time/quality delivery, long term quality, service call volume to product type, time-to-resolution (from the customer’s perspective), etc.
  2. Create an environment for honest two-way communication between you and your customers. This takes proactive effort beyond the typical satisfaction survey. Make the phone calls to the decision makers (Don’t delegate to a front-line staff person). Do this at different intervals in the relationship such as during delivery, post-delivery and after long-term use. Make time especially to listen, face-to-face, to your best customers to find out what is going on from their perspective and what it takes to attract and keep them. Then take action on what you learn.
  3. Create an environment for honest two-way communication between you and your staff, face-to-face where possible. This means scheduled visits, regular meetings, reviews, etc. Listen without judging, discounting or manipulating what is shared. Combine this with clear expectations and standards of accountability that are documented and measured with consistent followed-up.
  4. Keep customers and staff informed about what is going on. You don’t have to share confidential financial information or sensitive plans, but don’t patronize or underestimate the intelligence and awareness of your staff OR your customers. Remember that trust begets trust and loyalty.
  5. Don’t delay too long in making the tough decisions when necessary. Fire that customer. Let that long-term employee go. Drop that old product or service that you can no longer deliver or support properly. Admit you need some help then get it.

Disconnect is challenging to address. It takes time to resolve. With proper intent, good planning and consistent effort, it is possible to reconnect the pieces and resume the ‘flow.’

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