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Why bother to sit in with customer service?

Over fifty years ago, I was CEO of a record manufacturing company in Hollywood.  We were the only such facility on the West coast to provide and control the entire process from studio, through finished vinyl record pressings in the same building, therefore able to promise quality control others could only dream about.

As founder and CEO of the then public company, I was expert in several of the “clean” processes such as studio recording, record mastering, cover design and photo–Lead-and-learnlithography.  But if I knew then what I know now, I would have spent time working with my employees in each of the subsequent and more mechanical processes such as printing press management, record press management and shipping control in order to better learn my own business and hear first–hand suggestions from the line.

I lost an invaluable opportunity to learn from the front line.

[Email readers, continue here…]  Later, as CEO of a fast growing computer software company with over thirty employees in customer service alone, I did learn the lesson, as I sat in on customer service calls on occasion to get a more complete understanding of the process, pressures and opportunities for improvement.  Then, when my manager of customer service sent a request up the line asking for funds for equipment or expanded staffing, I would understand the need, sometimes offering suggestions for improvement to try before making the investment.

It had taken years to learn that empathy comes from experience, not just perceived understanding.  And that there is such a thing as a business leader showing empathy while making good strategic decisions.  I learned that employees appreciate knowing that their executives have experienced and can understand their world.  I learned that tough decisions, such as denial of a request, are better received when all affected know that there was a deeper understanding of the issue and reasons for the response.

All because I learned to sit in and understand the position, the workflow, and the challenges at each stage in the process of customer service.

Are you too busy to learn each step along the corporate process enough to understand issues and challenges?  Start by sitting in with customer service.  The benefits are immense.

  • Michael O'Daniel

    Thank you, Mr Berkus. This is one of the most important pieces you have ever published. The importance of listening to, recognizing and supporting your line employees cannot be overemphasized. In an era where so much emphasis is placed on analytics and spreadsheet management, organizations continue to ignore the valuable input available from the people who actually deal with customers and help the organization meet customer expectations.

    When I was marketing for an LA based graphic arts company — and this was before digital transference of typographic and print files became the new reality — my most valuable source of information was our drivers. Because they were out in the street, they picked up market information firsthand from our client companies and the couriers for our competitors. Conversely, I also agonized over the fact that one key employee in a customer service position was costing us business from high-volume clients, and yet our CEO for whatever reason would not move this person to another position where she could no longer jeopardize customer relationships. I called this learning experience “marketing by walking around” and it has served me well ever since.

  • Cheryl Centonze

    Thank you. You once again remind us to go back & revisit the basics in business before we soar forward to make changes.

  • Thomas N Thumser


    It is still great receiving your sage advice after all the years that have passed since that time at the software computer company.

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