Tag Archives: bad management

Out of Touch Executives Damage Companies: Go to the Gemba

When your customer service organization is universally recognized as horrible adding sales requirements to customer service representatives jobs is a really bad practice. Sadly it isn’t at all surprising to learn of management doing just that at our largest companies. Within a system where cash and corruption buys freedom from market forces (see below for more details) such practices can continue.

Such customer hostile practices shouldn’t continue. They shouldn’t be allowed to continue. And even though the company’s cash has bought politically corrupt parties to allow such a system to survive it isn’t even in the selfish interest of the business. They could use the cover provided by bought-and-paid-for-politicians-and-parties to maintain monopolistic pricing (which is wrong ethically and economically but could be seen as in the self interest of a business). But still provide good service (even while you take monopolistic profits allowed with corrupt, though legal, cash payments).

Of course, Adam Smith knew the likely path to corruption of markets made up of people; and he specifically cautioned that a capitalist economic system has to prevent powerful entities efforts to distort markets for individual gain (perfect competition = capitalism, non-competitive markets = what business want, as Adam Smith well knew, but this is precisely not capitalism). Sadly few people taking about the free-market or capitalism understand that their support of cronyist policies are not capitalist (I suppose some people mouthing those words are just preaching false ideas to people known to be idiots, but really most don’t seem to understand capitalism).

Anyway, this class of protected businesses supported by a corrupt political and government (regulators in government) sector is a significant part of the system that allows the customer hostility of those politically connected large businesses to get away with a business model based on customer hostility, but wasn’t really what I meant to write about here.

Comcast executives have to know they are running a company either rated the worst company in the country or close to it year after year. They, along with several others in their industry, as well as the cell phone service providers and too-big-to-fail-banks routinely are the leaders of companies most reviled by customers. Airlines are also up their for treating customer horribly but they are a bit different than the others (political corruption is much less of the reason for their ability to abuse customers for decades than is for the others listed above).

Leaked Comcast employee metrics show what we figured: Sell or perish [Updated]
Training materials explicitly require a “sell” phase, even in support calls.

The company’s choice to transform what is traditionally a non-revenue-generating area—customer service—into a revenue-generating one is playing out with almost hilariously Kafkaesque consequences. It is the nature of large corporations like Comcast to have dozens of layers of management through which leadership instructions and directives are filtered. The bigger the company, the more likely that members of senior leadership (like Tom Karinshak) typically make broad policy and leave specific implementations to lower levels.

Here, what was likely praised in the boardroom as an “innovative” strategy to raise revenue is instead doing much to alienate customers and employees alike. Karinshak’s assurances that he doesn’t want employees to feel pressured to sell in spite of hard evidence that Comcast demands just that are hard to square with the content of the document.

So what is going on here? Most people can easily see this is likely a horrible practice. It is a practice that a well run company theoretically could pull off without harming customers too much. But for a company like Comcast to do this it is obviously going to be horrible for customers (same for all those too-big to fail banks, cell phone service providers and other ISPs and cable TV providers).

Lets just pretend Comcast’s current leadership executives were all replaced with readers of the Curious Cat Management Improvement blog. And lets say that for now you are suppose to focus on improving the policies in place (while thinking about policy changes for later but not making them yet).

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Worse Hotel Service the More You Pay

The more you pay for your hotel room the more likely they will charge to provide decent WiFi in your room. Whether a company tries to rip you off with exorbitant prices, or lousy service, is just a function of their lack of respect for customers. Obviously it is cheap to provide decent WiFi (as staying at numerous cheap hotels shows – nearly all offer WiFi completely free).

Most expensive hotels show they do not respect their customers. Some actually do rise to the level of a typical budget, and cheaper, hotels and motels so it isn’t all expensive hotels that fail to meet this low standard. The management of those hotels come from the same school of management thought that produces our bankers.

Jeff Bezos captures one difference between poor managers (prevalent in many spreadsheet focused managers) and lean manufacturing managers with the quote: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.”

Thoughts on: Hotel WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites ManIs Poor Service the Industry Standard?

Verizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man

It is obvious a few companies don’t have any ability to, provide even just reasonably bad service (for them the goal of decent service is so far away as to not be reasonable). How often do Verizon (based on their lousy track record I won’t get FIOS), Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, United… get blasted for horrible custom service? So often it is not news. Still, the stories of their failures are written about over and over as they make so many people so mad some can’t help posting yet another story about the failures to value customers. Seth Godin is one recent example – Learning from frustration:

In this case, Verizon is acting like a monopoly (they’re not, at least not any more) and they are viewing customer interactions as an expense, not an investment.

So, I start by flipping this on its head. Verizon spends a fortune on advertising and outbound marketing. How much of that budget would they have to allocate/invest in order to turn their customer service into a discussion-worthy best in the world? Or at least enough to keep people from switching in disgust? Not much, it turns out.

Related: Dell, Reddit and Customer FocusMore Bad Customer Service Examples 🙁Customer Hostility from Discover CardIs Bad Service the Industry Standard?Ritz Carlton and Home DepotBetter and Different

Bad Management Results in Layoffs

In response to Is Laying People off Really Anti-Lean?:

Let’s say you, a Lean enthusiast, are named CEO of a mid sized manufacturing company. Let’s also assume your market has turned down and the constraint is clearly the market. Let’s also assume you need to improve operating income above all else. The final assumption is the company you inherited is not even good at mass production. They just stink at everything.

If you come into this situation and realize that you can implement some basic lean and six sigma principles and only need half the workforce to meet customer demand what do you do?

Layoffs are a failure of management. If the company has not been executing a long term strategy to respect people and manage the system to continually improve, manage for the long term, working with suppliers… it might be they have created an impossibly failed organization that cannot succeed in its current form. And so yes it might be possible that layoffs are required.

It is very easy to jump to layoffs as the “answer” though. While it is possible to construct a situation in which they make sense that such a hypothetical situation it rarely is the case that an organization is committed to lean and then makes layoffs. Instead they just think the same old way and mention the word lean since they see others doing it and layoff sounds like it is lean to someone that doesn’t know the first thing about lean thinking.

I would not see, “a focus on improving operating income above all else” as a lean way of thinking. Improving that is one focus among many that are needed to achieve long term success.

Does that mean a organization doing a great job of managing in a truly lean way may not find itself in a position where layoffs are necessary? No. Failing to predict and execute may have consequences and those may include layoffs. In your example things are confused a bit by separating the responsibility of getting into the mess from what to do next. Definitely, riding out a few poor quarters would be preferable. I have absolutely no question about that.
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