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The Cold War, a Bad Haircut, and Poor Customer Service

The Cold War, a Bad Haircut, and Poor Customer Service

The Concept. Do you remember the "cold war" concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.)? Essentially, this military strategy suggests that when two enemies point weapons of mass destruction of such high-yield and volume at each other, it creates a natural deterrent to pushing the LAUNCH button. If either side were to attack, the other would launch an immediate counter-attack which would result in the complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation of both the attacker and the defender. Lose-lose.

If It Were Personal. The "cold war" is over, at least for now, so let me make this concept more personal and relevant to you as a human. Imagine that you and your significant other were to enter into an agreement to cut each others' hair every three weeks. Now let me ask you a few questions that makes the assumption that you and your partner have some sort of haircutting skills:

  • How would your hair look right now?
  • Based on your relationship with your significant other at this very moment in time, would you want him or her to pick up the scissors and start cutting your hair?

I don’t know about you, but I would tend to act a little sweeter, a little kinder, as the hour of my haircut approached.

The Moral. It only makes good sense to be nice to those who have the power to make you look good or make you look bad.

If It Were Business. The same principle applies to leadership. Imagine that your managers treated their employees all the way down to the front line with the same level of enthusiasm, passion, and engagement that you shared with your direct reports. Now imagine that the way your front line employees are treat serves as the model they will use when they serve your customers. Ask yourself:

  • What kind of service would your customers receive?
  • If YOUR BOSS (perhaps the Chairman of the Board) were on Undercover Boss working alongside your front line employees, would you be proud?

I don’t know about you, but I would act a little more engaging towards my employees if I understood that they could make or break my business. Because, you know, they do.

The Moral: It only makes good sense to engage those who have the power to make you look good or make you look bad.

The Reality. According to Gallup, disengaged employees cost US companies $350 billion each year. In other words, how you engage your employees matters to your business, because how you engage your employees will either...

  • Increases or decreases your costs, your profits, your financial statement
  • Increases or decreases your productivity, your quality, your product innovation
  • Increases or decreases your brand reputation, your press, your market buzz

And if you're in the business of customer service (and every business is in the business of customer service), keep this in mind: How you treat your employees will directly increase or decrease customer perception, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and customer retention.

Three Takeaways. The best C-Suite leaders--

  1. Lead by example. How I treat your employees mirrors how your employees treat your customers. If you want your employees to serve customers with patience, compassion, and a philosophy that says “Yes, and…” to every request a customer makes, treat your employees that same way.
  2. Expect your other leaders to do the same. Don’t hire, promote or even retain leaders who mistreat employees. Read Robert Sutton’s book The No Asshole Rule. He has a financial formula that calculates the cost of jerks in the workplace, something he calls T.C.A. (Total Cost of Assholes). Imagine what would happen if your most important customer saw your biggest asshole leader at his or her worse. Would you sell more business? If not, cut that leader loose, and save yourself some money.
  3.  Focus on your people and your customers. Deming was right: “You can expect what you inspect.” If you want to build a culture that retains world-class employees and customers, begin your senior staff meetings asking each member at the table these two items: (1) Tell me about an employee you’ve amazed this week, and (2) Tell me about a customer that we’ve amazed this week. Note that I didn’t say an employee or customer that they’ve “served” or “helped” or “dealt with.” I said AMAZED. Unless you’ve lived your life under a rock, you probably don’t amaze easily. By asking your direct reports what they’ve done to amaze their employees and customers, you are clarifying your expectations and values, and you’re setting a high bar for them to reach. And isn’t that what leadership is all about?


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Scott Carbonara is a speaker, author, and consultant known as The Leadership Therapist for his diverse background working as an award-winning crisis intervention counselor, followed by chief-of-staff of a multi-billion dollar healthcare company. He is the author of four leadership books including A Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement (McGraw Hill 2012), and specializes in leadership topics pertaining to employee and customer engagement, and change management.

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