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Declaring War on the Wrong Thing

Fierce Ideas (orange lightbulb)

I offer the following true story as an opportunity to practice squid eye. If you’ve read Fierce Leadership, you know all about squid eye – the ability to spot the “tells” that indicate something is wrong, something isn’t working. If you’re good at squid eye, you are able to see what doesn’t want to be seen, what is hiding, often right under our noses. It’s like having sight in the presence of the blind.

“Tells” are all around us and come in many forms. Strongly held beliefs that make everyone weep, winning us nothing to write home about. Organizations that declare war on the wrong things. Even so-called “best” practices, when we consider the results they produce, can in fact, turn out to be worst practices. I will picture you shouting Eureka! Or found the squid! Or some such celebratory exclamation when you recognize the “tell” in this story that indicates something is very, very wrong.

True Story:  After four visits from a cable company personnel over the course of 30 days, I still did not have the service I signed up for in my new condo in Pike Place Market: internet, phone, and cable television. All of which the cable company was to provide, for which they charged a pretty penny, and which they had provided to the previous tenants. How hard could it be, right?  And yet...

    • My internet connection failed approximately once an hour


    • Only one phone jack was operational


    • I had no picture at all on one of two televisions


    • The screen on the second television frequently reverted to a scramble of code, which I had to “clear”


    • I received neither HBO or SHO, which I had requested


    • TiVo informed me that “Program information is running low... The DVR must connect successfully to the TiVo service.”

None of the technicians from the cable company had been able to resolve the problems. Each shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know why things weren’t working. Finally, I reached a supervisor who assured me that an “executive” would be monitoring my case and that I would hear from someone within 24 hours. No one called.

And then I received a bill. I wanted to lock their technicians and their supervisors in a room with me and practice my drop kick. Who says emotions don’t come into play with customers! Eventually, after leaving yet another message, I got a call from a Customer Loyalty Specialist who told me that he reported to the General Manager. He said his name was Leon.

“What is your last name?”
“We aren’t allowed to share that.”
“Why not?”
“It’s for the security of our personnel”.

Have you started shouting? If not, go back and re-read the dialogue above.

Any organization (barring the CIA and other cloak and dagger organizations, perhaps) that has a policy of withholding the identities of personnel from its customers is handing its customers a major TELL on a silver plate with a huge shiny banner declaring; WE DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, DEAR OUTRAGED CUSTOMER.  WE CARE ABOUT OUR PERSONAL SAFETY.

I expect you would hope, as I do, that if a company’s services or products have become so problematic they fear their customers might seek retribution in the form of bodily harm, the company would declare “war” on doing whatever it takes to improve their services or products. But this company’s strategy, a failed strategy, is to hide.

I wrote a letter to the CEO because I sometimes wonder if the CEO is aware of his or her customers’ experience. That was a month ago. I haven’t heard from him.

There are many companies, whole industries, who have a policy about not giving their real names to their customers. I hope you don’t work for one, but if you do, I urge you to bring this up for major discussion.

Gather your colleagues together and ask, “What have we declared war on?” And practice squid eye together by asking, “Have we declared war on the right thing?”

Perhaps the word “war” seems out of place when applied to things like improving and deepening relationships with co-workers or with customers, or coming up with a truly innovative approach to whatever it is you do, or raising the performance bar and holding it there – bold and high. But sometimes war is what it takes.

One definition of war is: a sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition, as in - the authorities are waging war against all forms of smuggling | a war on drugs. And sometimes, nothing short of war will do.

My hope for myself and for all of you is that we will occasionally declare war, if that’s what it takes, because we are committed to doing the hard things that also happen to be the right things.

P.S. Leon sent me his business card, with his full name on it. A step in the right direction, though the problem has still not been resolved and he has gone “dark”, doesn’t answer his phone or respond to emails. On the business card are the words:  “We’re on a mission.” Exactly what that mission is, is decidedly unclear, though it’s a pretty good bet, it’s not in the customers’ favor.


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