Why Blaming Your Frontline Will Never Lead to Service Quality

Successful companies are those that stop putting all the blame on employees and work to enhance frontline processes and tools.

Customer Service Representatives

Most organizations still believe that if the frontline will just give good service, customers will be happy and loyal. The fundamental flaw is the belief that the frontline must be cajoled into giving good service. In fact, most service staff are doing their best—given the card and processes, they have been dealt.

According to a recent ASQ Global State of Quality research study of nearly 1700 companies in 20 countries, quality process-oriented companies are three times as likely to be successful as being identified as high-quality and half as likely to have public service/quality disasters. While this may seem like common sense, the question remains, why do most companies not take these logical actions?

Error and Dissatisfaction-prone Processes Cause Most Dissatisfaction

While most companies assume that frontline employees cause most dissatisfaction, unmet expectations which are not caused by frontline employees cause the majority of dissatisfaction. Processes that lead to customer and employee errors often cause half of all dissatisfaction and sales and marketing processes account for one third of all dissatisfaction.

Employees are placed in the role of giving customers unpleasant news about rejected claims and non-warranty repairs. The resulting dissatisfaction is the fault of the process and the management that designed it, not the employee. At the same time, demoralized employees are apologizing for problems they know are preventable.

Companies surveyed in the 2016 ASQ Global State of Quality believe that a mature quality system focuses on proactively creating value rather than simply being relegated to compliance activities. In fact, over 89 percent of world-class organizations say that a focus on providing exceptional customer experience is one of the major benefits an organization reaps by fostering a mature quality culture. A mature quality culture develops when there’s an accurate understanding of what’s really causing problems.

The Actual Causes of Customer Dissatisfaction

Company process problems, usually the majority of customer issues, are generally caused by the following:

  • Incorrect expectations set by marketing and sales
  • Products, as designed, which have flaws or don’t meet customer expectations
  • Internal processes which create disconnects and failure to deliver on brand promises

Customer-caused problems – usually 20-30% of customer issues, include:

  • Incorrect expectations for particular product – often due to failure to read contract
  • Errors – often due to failure to read directions

Employee-caused issues – almost never more than 20% of total, include:

  • Errors – often caused by poor training and motivation
  • Attitude – often caused by poor supervision and resource constraints

Almost all of the above problem types are due to lack of systematic process or defective processes. For instance, if customers have incorrect expectations or make errors using a product, a more effective customer on-boarding process can help customers avoid those problems.

The following figure illustrates the findings of over 200 studies of root causes of dissatisfaction:

Reallocate 20% of Your Quality Monitoring and Training Resources to Process Improvement

What’s the best way of preventing customer dissatisfaction? Investing in training and evaluating staff on poor process only leads to frustration, disengagement and more frontline turnover. A better answer, at least in the short term, is to reallocate some of those resources to fixing your processes! The following is a six-month action plan guaranteed to enhance your frontline effectiveness.

Step 1: Create an End-to-End Journey Map, including marketing and sales processes. Your best consultants are the frontline staff led by a trained continuous quality facilitator.

Step 2: Identify preventable customer key points of pain (POP) – Using the journey map, identify five to ten top customer POP that cause frustration for customers and employees.

Three ways to do this are:

  • Ask the staff! The best question you can ask the staff is – “What are your frustrations in providing great service?” You will immediately identify the top five process problems.
  • Examine complaint data and do a root cause analysis of the most prevalent ones. Often the complaint is the result of a poor process earlier in the customer journey.
  • Random sample customers (at least 2,000) to identify what problems they have and which they do not even tell you about.

Step 3: Select and fix a few broken items, selecting both expectation-setting and internal process items

  • For marketing and sales, identify the 3 most predictable issues and identify how to warn the customer about them
  • For operations, fix two of the most frustrating processes
  • Measure the improvement via both process metrics and employee input

Step 4: Communicate and celebrate the improvements

Communicating fixes reinforces that you care and are listening to both employees and customers

  • Communicate improvements to employees via newsletters and townhall meeting
  • Communicate the improvements to the customers via the website, during interactions with employees and in future survey invitations

In summary, you can improve customer satisfaction by fixing problems one at a time as they occur, or via fixing the processes that cause the problems. The latter approach is dramatically more cost-effective.

About the Author

John Goodman is Vice Chairman of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting. Goodman has authored two books, Strategic Customer Service and Customer Experience 3.0.

  • Nupur March 15, 2017, 9:26 am

    Great article. Love the phrase points of pain- so much more relevant to customers than moments of truth 🙂

    • Mbinkar April 17, 2017, 9:03 pm

      Great article, management of companies need to understand this. Pressure is wrongly put on frontline staff thinking they are the magic to improve the customers experience.

Leave a Comment