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Fake Customer-First Leaders Destroy Great Businesses

by | Aug 22, 2022 | Startups

Big companies think we’re stupid.

Most of them still have “we’re currently experiencing higher than normal delays” when you email or phone their support. The auto-respond messages began back in March 2020.

Now they’re permanent.

I’ve recently been trying to get new bank accounts for my online business. Every time I am forced to ring my bank (they don’t do email), I sit on hold for 2+ hours each time. Often, only for them to eventually answer and take a message and say, “we’ll get a specialist to call you back.”

This quick story will change how you approach customers forever.

Offers of fake help are the worst

Getting a bank account is hard work.

We all could be terrorists according to AML/KYC bank policies. To make things more difficult most banks force you to go to a branch to ID yourself. I did it. Took 2.5 hours for them to scan my driver’s license.

After I left the branch I had a smile. Now I could use my bank accounts. Nope. I got home and had to lodge more paper forms that had to get mailed to my bank. No problemo. I did it right away.

Weeks later I still couldn’t send money.

I went on LinkedIn and contacted a few leaders at my bank. Most of them read my polite message but chose not to respond. Not replying is the start of fake customer-first culture. The read receipts LinkedIn offers exposes these posers.

But one senior leader did respond.

This is what fake customer help looks like

In my note to the leader, I asked if he could get me a team leader’s email address. I offered to return the favor too.

“No need to return any favors — our job is to help customers!

I got excited. Even a little aroused by the offer to help.

I sat tight waiting for my corporate knight in shining armor to return with a bank god or goddess to assist me. Days passed. Nothing. Nudda. I followed up on my email. Nothing. Ghosted. I gave it a few more days then emailed again.

“The relevant teams are aware of your issue so I’ll leave it with them.”

No one had reached out. The call center still couldn’t help as they didn’t have the relevant training to assist with application form issues.

I emailed the leader again.

“Hey, sorry no one has reached out. My contact at the bank has looked in the CRM and there are no notes of a support ticket or escalation.”

I got back another lifeless reply. Again, all they had to do was give someone my contact details or pass on an email address.

Fake customer-first leaders are a plague

If you’ve ever worked a job, I’m sure you’ve encountered this painful culture where leaders pretend to care about customers.

Most of them haven’t spoken to a customer in years — or ever.

Their nice words punctuate their buzzword-filled sentences perfectly. They seem to care … they appear to care … they want to care. But they don’t.

I used to be one of these employees. I worked in a big bank too. The place was drowning in parrots that would rehash whatever the CEO had said that week. All the “customers are our number one priority” talk was an elaborate plot to get either a promotion or a bonus — and everyone knew it.

Still, a person’s gotta eat … so we all did it. Even me.

The challenge is when everyone is pretending but no one is doing, the customer experience goes south, fast. Revenue starts to drop so knives come out to stab leaders in the back.

It gets bloody ugly. And it destroys great businesses.

It’s why both employee and customer loyalty are at record lows.

We’re smart enough to know when leaders and businesses care. When they don’t we just switch off or go through the motions — lifeless.

The other plague we’re tired of

Pretending to care about customers is one thing. What’s even worse is the HR puppets saying to employees “we care about you.”

If employees mattered to most businesses then they wouldn’t lay them off in recessions or during bat virus lockdowns in 2020. All the fakeness helps no one.

Actions speak louder than words and too many leaders have forgotten that.

Or they hope we don’t track their actions in a spreadsheet and call BS in the next town hall, where they pretend to be a Marvel superhero in front of an audience and like customers are in love with their pretty faces.

The real customer-first story that’ll leave you speechless

Like I said, I was a not-my-department employee too. I even became a computer-says-no employee during one bad career phase.

What changed is certain career mentors taught me the new rules of the game. They pointed out the fake customer-first problem and said “do the opposite.”

So I did.

One afternoon while working my call center job, I got a misdirected call from the main switchboard. Normally my colleagues would hang up on these calls and giggle like school girls.

But with my new mindset around customers I took the call.

“Hey there Tim, look we’ve got a caller from the US. The customer is trying to get hold of the right department. Can you help?”

I took the call. I spoke to them and they explained their situation. Turns out they represented one of the largest tech giants in the world. And oddly, I knew exactly who could help them because a guy that sat near me always spoke about his portfolio of tech clients.

Rather than email the client to the correct person — I set up a phone call with my colleague, the customer, and me to talk (warm handover). The client ended up signing up for our banking services.

They became one of the top ten largest clients my employer had ever signed. This story went all through our workplace. Helping that one customer, even though I didn’t have to, defined my career.

Why stop at one customer

After this happened I became known as a “can-do person” by everyone that worked in the same skyscraper as me.

Another issue happened afterward. A small startup from Chicago had issues getting its customers onboarded to our bank. No one wanted to help. We got forced to help by our boss for one week.

Everyone did the work with a pissed-off face.

After the week expired everyone refused to keep going, including my boss. I said yes to helping the customer for a bit longer.

A few weeks after that, the tiny startup got acquired by one of the other largest tech companies in the world for billions of dollars. The internal team I was helping asked me to stick around. So I did. I did my normal job and their job.

The customer got wind of what I did.

They became a raving fan and kept telling senior leaders all around my workplace how much they appreciated me. On their visits to Australia they treated me like royalty.

That tiny help I gave ended in two consecutive promotions that more than doubled my salary and defined my entire career. It’s how I got to work with some of the biggest Silicon Valley companies in the world.

A simple solution to the fake customer-first culture

Stop faking it until you make it.

Customers and colleagues can see through your lies. Actually help customers when they need help. Don’t pretend to care — actually care. Think of customer problems as career opportunities that don’t get advertised on LinkedIn.

During the years I worked in banking, I found a simple hack so you don’t have to overwork yourself.

Become a master of your internal staff directory.

All the people who can help customers have their contact details in there. All you need to do most of the time is know who to reach out to and put the customer in touch.

The master skill is to care though. How?

Follow up with the customer and ensure they got the help they needed. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it can give you the sort of career most can only dream of.

No more fake love of customers. Just help customers like you’d help friends.

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