Paying Close Attention To Front Line Image Building

An experience this morning got me to thinking about how your organization’s image can be tarnished – or burnished – on the front line where services are actually delivered, far from the CEO’s office, and how CEOs are well-advised to pay close attention to front-line interactions with customers.

Many of my readers have probably suffered through interactions like mine this morning with the receptionist at a roofing company. Facing an extremely busy Monday morning, I was at my desk at 7 a.m., and as is my custom, I first took a look at the day’s calendar. Seeing that I had blocked out 9 to 10:30 a.m. to meet an estimator from the company at the home we are renovating a 40-minute drive from my office, I called the roofing company to pin down when I could expect the estimator to arrive so I didn’t end up killing several minutes waiting. When I explained to the receptionist why I was calling her immediate response was that she couldn’t pin down the time of the visit any more precisely because the estimator might end up spending extra time in the meeting before the one with me, or get caught in traffic. When I explained that I’d already met with estimators from five other roofing firms, all of whom had had no problem promising to arrive at the house within a fifteen-minute window, the receptionist, now obviously irritated, informed me that she’d be happy to cancel my appointment if that’s what I wanted. I was about to take her up on the offer – after 4 minutes or so on the phone – when she said she’d call the estimator’s cell and have him call me when he was 30 minutes away from the house where we’d be meeting.

I agreed that her suggestion made sense, and it turns out that it worked. But those five minutes on the phone made me wonder if I really wanted to give my business to a company that paid so little attention to interactions with its potential customers. Why didn’t this front-line representative save me time and aggravation by offering to call the estimator right after I asked my question? If the roofing company was that lax in relatively small matters, could I depend on getting my money’s worth on their installation of a new roof? However, the company had been so highly recommended by colleagues I respect and trust that I put my reservations aside and went ahead with the meeting. Believe me, though, I came this close to cancelling.

Thinking about the importance of these front line interactions as image builders for all organizations – for-profit, nonprofit, and public – this afternoon after my meeting with the roofing estimator, I was reminded of a really pertinent podcast that the Chief Executive Officer of the Spokane Transit Authority, Susan Meyer, recorded recently. Susan describes STA’s highly effective Mystery Shopper Program, which – as part of their Quality Counts Initiative – gathers information on driver-rider interactions on the system’s various bus routes. Aimed at improving driver-rider interactions rather than punishing sub-par performance, the program has been generally well-received, and it’s certainly made a difference to STA’s public image. There’s no question in Susan’s mind that the Mystery Shopper Program has been well worth her time and attention.  Here’s the link to Susan’s very informative podcast:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQTTq7c5BgM 

Doug Eadie