Category Archives: Customer Service

Leadership & Creating an Environment of Service

Servamt Leadership 2 No_optA lot has been said about the leader as “servant”. I expect, given that it is a relatively young term (having been ‘born’ in 1970), it is also subject to wide interpretation. As such, while some people will experience great results from their efforts to serve, others will consider it a fad that will go away if they ignore it. Still others will make every effort to embrace the notion of the Servant Leader but find themselves exhausted, confused and possibly resentful because people seem to be walking all over them.

So what to do?

Well, first I’m thinking that we need some clarity about what it means to serve or be a servant. So I looked it up in a number of dictionaries and found this:

“Servant leaders are humble stewards of their organizations’ resources.”

A Servant is one who serves another, providing help in some manner.”

“A servant is a person who performs duties for others”.

So far so good.

Then I went to the Thesaurus for some synonyms for the word servant. Between the words attendant and steward lay these words, lackey, flunky, minion and drudge.  Okay then, herein may lie a problem.

Perhaps it is that many of us, when we think of the term Servant Leadership, take this subservient perspective (a.k.a. lackey, flunky, minion and drudge). In other words, it suggests that by serving, we are also submitting to the whims of others for no other reason than to render them superior. And, let’s face it, our egos are going to have a hard time with that. So, if you have been leaning in that direction when you think about the notion of Servant Leadership, I have some good news for you. I don’t think it’s about that at all.

Here’s what I do believe it’s about. It’s about…

knowing the Over-arching purpose I believe a good servant leader will focus on an over-arching purpose. This purpose becomes the master and the guide for all activities undertaken within the framework of the company. The leader serves the purpose through people. For instance, Southwest airlines’ over-arching purpose is stated as: “To provide the best service and lowest fares to the short haul, frequent-flying, point-to-point, non-interlining traveler.” This simple statement lets everyone know why Southwest Airlines is in business and whom it is there to serve.

However, in order to succeed, this understanding of service must permeate the organization and so it also becomes the role of the leader to:

Serve the people who are working to fulfill the over-arching purpose. This means providing the resources needed for people to do their jobs well and happily. It includes delivering needed training, supplies, connections, information, accommodation, direction and anything else that allows people working in the company to move the organization closer to the achievement of its purpose.

Encourage and develop an environment where people serve each other.  Where we can go wrong with this servant leadership thing is that we fail to expect all people working in the organization to serve too. Or, we simply don’t convey it very well.

Those who believe servant leadership to be a role only for the designated leader would be wrong. In truth, an environment that embraces service will do so in an all-encompassing way. This means that regardless of title or position, each person will both lead and serve another, or a group of others, to achieve company goals and make a contribution to the achievement of its purpose.

So, having said all that, what does it actually take to create this environment where service is king? Well, for what it’s worth, this is what I think about that.

It takes Discipline: Staying focused on the over-arching purpose and using it, as a guide for providing service to others is not easy. As humans, we can become easily distracted. It may be easy to stay the course and remain true to the purpose when times are good. But, when they are not so good, it becomes tempting to stray and do what is expedient instead.

It takes Humility: Putting others before ourselves is sometimes a challenge, especially in business, but humility is an essential ingredient in a successful service environment. I’m not talking about being obsequious here. I’m talking about simply being unselfish and mindful of others’ needs and contributions.

It takes Collaboration: Simply put, in order to serve the purpose and each other, we have to learn to work together, avoid internal politics and protectionism and share our ideas and resources with each other more freely.

It takes Trust: Trust is often an earned thing. However, a leader who serves the people will, in my view anyway, start from a platform of trust rather than skepticism. In my experience, people respond well to a leader who conveys faith in their intent. People who feel trusted are more likely to be willing to serve the over-arching purpose. Will you be disappointed? Yep, from time to time you will. But, if you start out not trusting my hunch is you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

And:

It takes Faith: I’m not talking about the religious kind of faith here. I’m talking about the kind of faith that makes you believe so strongly in your company’s purpose and its people that all of your activities centre around them and the financial results that you realize from that come as a by-product of your collective effort.

So, is servant leadership for the faint of heart? I’d say no. Is it about subservience, or slavery? Certainly not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Note: this post was originally published in 2010.

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Filed under communication, Customer Service, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational Development

Customer Service and a Tale of Woe

Many of us who write a business-oriented blog speak from our experience and employ whatever expertise we may have to promote good leadership and good business practices. The customer experience is often a measure of how well these elements are being carried out. This week’s post is about me and about my experience as a beleaguered customer of a certain company.  It’s a bit long but I hope you hang in there with me.

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Once upon a time there was a woman.  She was an ordinary woman and one who, like many others, had her share of challenges.  Lately her challenge was helping her husband find his way back from a major stroke, one that had left him unable to properly use his body.

The stroke had changed both of their lives in a significant way and the woman wanted her husband to regain some of his independence, for both their sakes.  So she started looking for a mobility scooter for him, one that was light enough for her to lift into the back of their car and also allow her husband to travel around the neighbourhood by himself if he should have the inclination.

She looked locally, but initially thought perhaps the scooters she saw were going to be too heavy for her to lift.  So she looked on the Internet…as you do.

She found Summit Mobility Products, a company located in Center Line Michigan.  Their scooters seemed to hold the possibility of being useful to him and manageable for her.  And so, at the cost of US$1,598.00 plus $160 for shipping, less $45 “instant rebate” she ordered one

It arrived promptly, on or about July 25, 2012, a shiny new Lexis Light scooter.

The woman and her husband were both excited about it and the independence it promised but when the she removed it from the box and assembled it, it proved not to meet their needs.  It folded up as promised but felt awkward and the battery was too small for the scooter to effectively cope with the hilly neighbourhood.  So, they decided to send it back.

The next day, the woman phoned the company and spoke to a very pleasant young lady who said she would be happy to receive the scooter and refund its cost but could offer no suggestion as to how the woman might get the scooter back into the original package and no mechanism to help her facilitate the return shipping.

Feeling somewhat abandoned but undeterred, the woman arranged for a local shipping company to repack the scooter professionally and send it on its way back from Vancouver, Canada to Michigan. The cost for this was more than double the amount charged to ship it to the woman in the first place but she had other priorities and so was anxious to deal with the matter expeditiously.

The scooter made its way to the U.S. border during the first full week in August 2012. The woman waited for word of its arrival in Michigan.  No word came.  She phoned the shipping company who advised her that unfortunately “they” (meaning an entity other than themselves) had lost the paperwork required for the scooter to cross the border.  The paperwork had to be re-submitted.  The woman waited some more.  When she called the shipping company again she was advised that US Customs had refused the package because it required a medical device listing number.  Efforts were made both by the shipping company and the woman to provide such a number. Summit Mobility advised that the scooter was not a medical device and therefore would not have such a number.  Much wrangling between the woman, the shipping company and Summit Mobility ensued.  In the meantime the scooter, (nicely re-packaged and ready to go), went nowhere… for seven months.

Eventually, the shipping company and Summit Mobility successfully identified the much searched for Medical Device Listing Number and it appeared that the light was finally green for the scooter to go on its way…for an additional cost of course.

By now it was March 2013 and the woman, concerned about the long delay in getting the scooter back to Michigan, called Summit Mobility and talked to a Manager there.  She reminded him of her story and asked him to confirm that if she undertook the additional cost to send it would he receive it and refund the money she had paid for it?  His response was positive.

On the strength of his assurances, the woman gave the shipping company permission to proceed.  This time the package passed through the US border without incident and arrived at Summit Mobility on March 26, 2013.

The company confirmed receipt of the scooter in good order and indicated their promised intention to refund its cost (less shipping costs of course).

To date, in spite of copious phone calls and e-mails, the company has failed to reimburse the woman.  Further, they have not returned any of her phone calls.  From time to time she does catch the Manager at his desk.  Each time he confirms her home address and assures her that “the cheque is in the mail” or the Visa Account will be credited.  Nothing.

On occasion, she will call and a pleasant person will transfer her to the manager.  On those instances she is often sent to voice mail instead.  Each time, she leaves a message.   She makes it a point to be polite.  At no time does she receive a return call.   On another occasion, the manager referred her to someone in the accounting department. But the accounting department does not return her calls or respond to her e-mails either.

Might she have done something differently? Of course she might.  She might have chosen to save the costs of shipping the scooter back to Michigan by selling it locally.   In light of the events that took place, she would most certainly have been better off financially had she done that. However, her choice in this instance is not the point.   She sent the scooter back after assurances from the company that she would receive a refund for its cost.  They have confirmed its receipt and yet have failed to send her the money she is owed.

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Of course I’m the woman in question.   And having sent the company a final e-mail summarizing my experience with them and outlining my expectations one more time without a response, I’m ready to try something different.

So, if this story resonates with you in any way, I’m  asking you to send a copy of this blog post to Summit Mobility Products via e-mail.  If you feel inclined to add your own short message as well, I would be most grateful.  I only ask that you do so with the utmost of courtesy.

The company’s e-mail address is info@summiteasy.com.  The Manager I spoke with is Mike Flosky.  His email address is mike@summiteasy.com.

The truth is I feel  more than a bit foolish about my decision to stubbornly send the scooter back to the company in spite of the difficulty and additional cost involved. But,  I rather think this story reflects more badly on Summit Mobility Products ‘ integrity than it does on my lapse in judgment.  I’d like to find a way to send that message to them loud and clear in the hope that it will encourage them to do the right thing.  Care to join me?

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An Update ~ October 23, 2013:  For those of you who have been gracious enough to read, and empathize with my tale of woe, I’m very pleased to tell you that I have now received the refund I have so long sought.  This is, in no small part, due to so many of you who took the time to comment on the post; e-mail the company; and in some cases do both.  It appears that my words alone were simply not enough.  Your words, together with mine made a powerful difference.  Thank you for your time and your generosity.   It will be long remembered. 

Sincerely

Gwyn

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Filed under communication, Customer Service, Leadership