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Are you us-and-them or just we?

A couple of months ago I held the first training course physically in almost two years. That is, with the participants in the same room. It was project management training and I was looking forward to meeting 15 interested project owners and commissioners.

After 20 months of sitting at home, it was actually both for the education itself and to meet people for real, but it was also to actually travel and stay in hotels. Not something I used to crave, as it happened every week.

But now it was time, so I thought I’d celebrate a little extra by taking advantage of an offer from the hotel I chose. When I booked, I immediately received an email with an offer that I could stay in a slightly nicer room that was also a little higher up in the hotel with a better view. Confirmation came by email.

I left a little early to enjoy the hotel a little extra the day before training.

With great anticipation

I entered the hotel in anticipation and went to the reception desk to check in.

– No, there is no such offer, said the lady at the reception.

– Yes, I said, and showed the offer on the phone. I continued to read that the confirmation said that I would get the larger room at the top of the house.

– Well, said the lady, it’s them centrally who did this. Nothing we know anything about. We cannot offer you the larger room.

It was a bit of an end point I felt she agreed with it.

– But wait, I said, isn’t this the same hotel as the one in the confirmation email?

– Yes, yes, sure, but it’s them centrally that sent this out. It’s not us.

– But wait, I said again, don’t they and you represent the same hotel?

– Hmmm, yes, I understand how you think. But they are… She stopped herself when she saw my “this-is-not-what-I’m-buying”.

– I’ll see what I can do,” she added.

What does it look like at your place?

Do you recognise yourself and do you have this in your business? Is it that customers expect to meet one business, but are constantly treated as if there were several?

  • Does the customer need to make several different calls to different departments to get what you offer?
  • Does the customer need to hunt down who to talk to if they are dissatisfied?
  • Do you refer to other departments and subcontractors if you don’t feel that “they” should be the ones to handle it all?
  • Does the customer who is not satisfied with a purchase or delivery need to turn to customer service who doesn’t really know what the problem is, because the seller has not documented, not provided information or similar?

All too often, I encounter businesses that don’t understand that they are a whole. That everyone represents the business. It doesn’t matter if it’s a business or a public service.

You have to understand that you are a representative of the whole business. It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do. From the customer’s perspective, there is no “it’s not us, it’s them”. There is only the business.

If you work at the Municipality of Tors, you represent all activities in the Municipality of Tors. If you work for Durable Phone, you represent the entire company’s business. And this includes the subcontractors it has chosen to work with.

The latter is important, because you as a customer do not care that I have chosen to use subcontractors, but you have the relationship with me. So any subcontractors I choose are my responsibility, not yours to keep track of.

It is not uncommon that when you contact organisation A, with whom you have “done business”, you are referred to their subcontractor B, as it is “not us but them” that you should be talking to.

This is both a cultural and an organisational issue. The culture needs to be that we all work together to deliver value to customers, whatever we call them. At the same time, we also need to ensure that our own organisation does not counteract the desired culture.

Putting up walls in the value-creating flows through departments and units does not work.

It means focusing on the value-creating flows altogether, and letting employees know that’s what matters. Because then customers will also naturally experience a unified “you” when interacting with the business.

So how did my hotel room go?

After I protested that I could not get the offer I had received and accepted earlier, a colleague stepped into the discussion. She had heard the discussion and came over to offer support. They mumbled and looked at the computer.

After a while the answer came;

– Sorry, we have no rooms available in that category. Whether that was true or whether it was a way to end the whole discussion I don’t know.

So, I didn’t get what I was offered. But I got another example of how crazy it can get when you don’t see yourself representing the whole business.

Do you have a similar experience? Please tell me

Have a great week.