Or does your company know who the customer is?
Far too many service companies suffer from an infrastructure disease I call “Corporate Dyslexia”; a serious internal cultural sickness in which the indirect corporate “service” and “support” organization comes to see itself as the “customer”, with its internal tasks and priorities being more important than those of the customer-facing parts of the company and, ultimately, those of the paying customers themselves.
“Corporate Dyslexia” deludes companies into losing sight of the fundamental fact that their very existence and continued success lie in supporting and satisfying their paying customers’ mission, needs, and expectations. Infected companies act as if this reality were reversed; that their customers and customer-support organization exist to support the back office.
The causes of “Corporate Dyslexia” can be subtle and varied. For example, many corporate back office infrastructures are out of touch with the realities of direct customer support because:
- Physical and professional isolation from direct customer support functions insulates them from those operational realities.
- The risk-averse nature of many of those attracted to corporate service and support functions causes them to avoid field assignments and direct customer interface and scrutiny.
- Co-location with Corporate management provides the back office service and support staff with easy access to executives and informal exercise of “reflected power”; de facto assumption of authority without commensurate responsibility.
Because of these and other related factors, back office “service” and “support” can come to behave as though the customer-facing side of the company exists to serve their internal needs and requirements over those of the paying customer. The back office starts to unconsciously think of themselves as the “customer”!
“Corporate Dyslexia” most often remains undiagnosed in infected companies. In some cases, management may be too focused and invested in corporate staff functions and politics to recognize it or deal with it; or, in other cases, corporate management may have come up through the back office “service” and “support” infrastructure itself and have little or no customer-facing “real world” experience. In the latter case, management simply cannot see the problem due to a narrow aperture and limited focus resulting from a lack of balanced experience. This brings an old adage to mind: “You cannot see what you have not been taught to look for”.
Whether ignored or unrecognized, “Corporate Dyslexia” is seldom dealt with in any meaningful way and can easily become the dominant company culture.
Unchecked, “Corporate Dyslexia” poses a real threat to the long-term health of any afflicted company. In the initial stages of the disease, emerging symptoms are often dismissed as “one off” problems. As the disease progresses, problems continue to emerge with increasing frequency and severity. Symptoms frequently include:
- A growing internal “us” and “them” attitude emerging between the customer-facing parts of the company and the back office.
- A rising resentment in the customer-facing infrastructure which, if not addressed, can eventually result in the loss of some of its best and brightest. This can leave a less capable Operations and BD staff, beginning a spiral of decreased performance accompanied by a increased management and supervision workload.
- Increasing ad hoc internal conflicts negatively impacting day-to-day business performance and overall morale within the company.
Eventually, problems caused by “Corporate Dyslexia” become too frequent and too serious to ignore. Yet, even when recognized as problems, they typically continue to be blamed on factors external to the back office; not uncommonly on the customer-facing parts of the company. In the terminal stages of the pathology, internal back office problems may even be blamed on the customers themselves.
Ultimately, customers tire of “Corporate Dyslexia” and quietly stop being customers.