This blog is inspired by an accumulation of observations in contact center customer service interactions that many companies are putting their own management before their customers.  Many who read that line will conclude a reach into the much written about ‘pay gap’ disparity between CEO’s and the rest of us, but I’m not going there. This is about how some companies continue to show a lack of empathy for customer service staff, and how they continue to alienate themselves from their customers with policies that not only don’t make sense – but that leave front-line staff disempowered to fix customer service issues.

Are Customers First-Class?
The inspiration comes from a recent air travel experience, where providing employees with free travel is one of the key perks of employment. Combine that with powerful unions that represent airline employees and the nature of the job, you tend to find a lot of airline staff flying around on planes when not on duty. I don’t take issue with any of the above-mentioned, and I wouldn’t change places in a heartbeat with a pilot trying to land a 767 with gusting cross-winds or a stewardess trying to provide care to a sick passenger.

But I would trade seats. On a recent flight as I walked through the first-class cabin, I noticed half of the passengers were airline staff wearing ‘civilian’ clothes but with visible airline employee badges. I wondered if the military personnel boarding the flight, elderly couple stressed and anxious about making a trip, or the young mother dealing with a fidgeting toddler had also taken notice. It occurred to me that those seats could go to customers who paid to be on that flight, not to employees who have that right as a benefit of employment. Perhaps a better recognition that those customers that trudge by are subsidizing that employee benefit would be appropriate. I don’t see it.

Understaffed and Underserved
My observations aren’t unique to the airlines. I’ve had several recent hotel and retail store experiences where I felt like I was disrupting a conversation when approaching managers who were engaged in private conversations that shouldn’t leave the break room – simply to make a purchase or check-in. We’ve all had bad restaurant experiences that stemmed from a manager who was skating by being understaffed with servers on a busy night. Or we’ve tried unsuccessfully to check into a hotel without a room being ready because the hotel manager skimped by on cleaning crews leaving us waiting in lobbies to post on Trip Advisor about poor service.

Management Exceptions
In each of these cases, it’s my experience that the person bearing the brunt of our customer ‘ilk’ isn’t the one who scheduled staff that day, and that’s unfortunate.  It isn’t the person who put an employee ahead of a customer for a good seat. Or the major grocery store chain that decided to charge store associates for ice (true story).  Or the manager who came up with a formula for how long it takes to clean a hotel room.  Those policies come from management. Those approvals come from management. Those exceptions come from management.  Until we change that and put the power to act, and the power to create customer-friendly policies in the hands of the people who deal with customers the most, we’ll continue to have a widening gap between the customer and company. Do you care more about management than you do your customer?