Your 2010 Goal: Design Yourself Out of Your Job

So, you’re the CCG (Chief Customer Guru) at Megalopolis Corp.  You’re empire includes all of customer service and support for your global operations; 15 contact centers; 9,000 customer service agents; 2,000 technical support and help desk staff and all the brick and mortar, technology and telephony goodies that drive the machine.

You’ve just had a great holiday season.  Batteries are fully charged.  You’re ready to begin executing on your 2010 strategic plan to improve customer service and finally measure the impact of your service delivery on brand equity.  You’ve build your financial models, staffing projections and volume forecasts; working with Marketing and Product Development to understand their plans so you can be a supportive business partner.

It’s January 4, 2010, 8:30am.  You have your Monday morning one on one meeting with your CEO.  Close the door, sit down at the conference table and he says:

“You’re mission for 2010 is to eliminate your job, and your entire function in this company.  You have ultimate authority to drive decisions in any area of the organization that you think impacts your ability to accomplish this mission.  We’ll meet back here on February 1st to review your plan”.  He gets up and walks out of the room.

What do you do?


  1. Barry, I love it! This is an entirely valid proposition, as a company only needs a Chief Customer Guru until it has a culture of service. ..So the challenge of this exercise is to reengineer this company's culture. No easy task. I'm going to chew on this and return to give you the answer your excellent question deserves. Stay tuned!

  2. This is a tough one Barry. While Ted raises an excellent point above I would find a way to get more time with the CEO, well ahead of February 1st, to determine what the real purpose is behind the request? Is it really a desire to drive a cultural shift or a drive towards cost cutting?

    If the goal is to drive cultural change I would recommend evaluating the your organization on several levels, perhaps first:

    – How well is your team at their job today? Based upon current metrics, is the team efficient and are customers happy?
    – How transparent is your team to other internal organizations? Is the team viewed as an asset, are successes and challenges clearly communicated at all levels?
    – Are your peers viewed as partners or competitors? If you have not built bridges then this must be part of your initiatives.

    Part of driving this cultural change will be educational. First, getting everyone in the company to understand that part of their job involves customer satisfaction.

    Part of driving cultural change will involve setting up metrics to determine level of involvement, per person in the company, to customer satisfaction.

    Part of this will include working with HR and your peers to tie bonus and compensation plans to customer satisfaction targets.

    I'll have to keep thinking through this as there are many layers and situational dependencies…. Great question Barry.


  3. From Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach
    Hi Barry, I see it differently than John and Ted. Chief Customer Guru needn't work him or herself out of a job. Maintaining the customer service culture is a job. The culture does not last on its own. It also needs to evolve with a changing business.

    I have witnessed solid customer service cultures erode when the leadership did not continue to evolve it. Something for leaders to think about!
    Very creative post in the way you framed the question. Bravo. Kate Nasser

  4. Rather than lay out my plan for the CEO, I’d adress his challenge with questions.

    1. Enterprise-wide, how is the service at Megalopolis Corp today? Think in terms of stars. Is it at zero stars (infuriating: Comcast, Bank of America)? Is its service five-star (awe-inspiring: Nordstrom, Zappos)? Or is it stuck in the morass of three-star mediocrity that traps most large organizations (Macy’s, Barnes & Noble).

    2. At present, is “customer service” relegated to a department? That entire construct, not just the position of C-level customer advocate, needs to go before the company can get anywhere near five stars. Top-notch customer service isn’t a job function; it’s a way of doing business.

    3. Is the CEO ready to take charge? In one regard, Kate is absolutely right: someone at the very top needs to lead the service effort at all times. A company needs a C-level customer guru who reports directly to the CEO and has his clear support, in order to cut through the inevitable resistance he will get from other top stakeholders in the company. So if the role of Chief Customer Guru is eliminated, is the CEO suited to take on the role himself? This can be an awkward question for a person to ask his boss, but it is essential to ask.

    4. Is the CEO truly dedicated to forging a culture of service throughout the organization? It’s great that Megalopolis has high-tech tools and thousands of customer-facing employees. What caliber of person is attracted to work at Megalopolis? What kind of ongoing training do they enjoy? What if some of the CEO’s own dearest cronies don’t have what it takes to grow with the company? Is he willing to let them go in order to see this transformation out?

    In my books, on my blog, and in every talk I give, I try to drive home the same crucial points: that an organization cannot provide truly winning customer service without a culture of service pervading its every department and branch, its every worker and executive. That culture must come from the very top.

    Leadership. Culture. Service. Profits. One leads to the next to the next; no short-cut, no scrimping, and no half-measure will get you there.

    Mr. CEO, are you serious? If so, let’s get started!

  5. First, let me thank you all for taking the time to provide your insights on this kind of quirky question. I got to thinking about the question while reading the book by "The Best Service is No Service". Yea, I know. I was written in 2008 and its taken me a while to get to it.

    In the book though, he talks about the reasons that reactive customer service as most companies define it today exists in the first place: because some other part(s) of the organization are broken. Be it product design, manufacturing, billing (we all know that is the #1 reason customers call both mobile phone and cable companies), there is something in the upstream operations of the company that require organizations to establish customer service functions.

    Also, as I wrote about a few weeks ago, products today, for the most part are commodities. This is an experience-base economy. So, the opportunity here is not to ditch the customer-centric culture or the efforts to deliver a superior customer experience. The opportunity is to shift the focus to providing that delightful experience proactively as part of the value proposition. Not reactively, as a 'cleaning crew for company screw ups'.

    So, if I were to outline a plan (at a very high level, because that's all I would commit to in 30 days :), 2 steps is all I need to outline on February 1st:

    1. Redirecting the focus of the analytic resources away from the customer service operations and metrics to the upstream operations. All those folks that are cranking out analysis of call floor operations, customer satisfaction, NPS, AHT (If my contact center is still measuring AHT, I should have been fired a long time ago), need to be focused on identifying and reengineering the upstream drivers of customer contacts – from the customers' perspective; implementing the right customer-driven KPIs that will drive the organization going forward. If this organization is truly empowered over these other functions, we've got a fighting chance

    2. Redefining, rebuilding and relaunching the company's product/service portfolio with the emphasis on designing, selling and delivering experiences that connect with customers at a deep emotional level.

    This would require a multi-year effort in an organization this large in order to get the operations back on track and then an sustained focus to keep it there. So, as Ted said, if the CEO is willing to make that kind of investment in resources, time and capital, lets do it!

    Thanks again guys. And please feel free to poke holes in this. I'm not sure where this will go. But, I think it has the potential for more than just good hypothetical chatter.

  6. Sorry folks. The book is "The Best Service is No Service" by Bill Price.

  7. I'll apologize upfront for being late to the discussion, with a dissenting opinion that turned into a manifesto.

    It should be part of all of our objectives, or the ultimate measure of our success, to make our functions obsolete. If our job becomes so woven into the fabric of an organization’s culture, processes and “the way we do things around here” to the point that our position is no longer needed, that is the very definition of a successful outcome.

    (As a side note, its interesting that the cost motive is so often used that it makes us question the CEO’s motives. Our defensiveness on this topic is so deeply engrained that it even invades our hyptoheticals. For my part, I’ll assume the CEO is serious & genuine in their request.)

    The way to make the service organization you describe obsolete is to make everyone in the organization, most of all the front line, capable of providing the level of service that would ensure that reactive service support is no longer required.

    The question then becomes where does this change start, so that it gets to the line. In my experience, it has to come from the top, in unison, across the C-level. Our “way of doing business, has to be lived and visibly exhibited by the most senior leaders in order for it to have a chance. Non adherence, even at the top, cannot be acceptable, and behavior counter to the goals has to be more harshly penalized for senior leaders than their subordinates. Only then, will the middle-management change agents feel comfortable taking up the mantle of the needed service transformation.

    From the top, it has to cascade throughout the support organization – the thousands of “staffers” in HR, Marketing, Engineering, Pricing, Legal, Safety, Collections, whatever – that ultimately support the front line. If the goal is zero defects past the front line, then the teams providing internal service need similar goals. The old adage, “If you’re not serving the customer, you’d damn well better be serving someone who does” becomes the basis for, “If you’re not providing exceptional, defect free service to the customer, you’d damn well better be serving someone who does, but even better”.

    Only when the front line is supported by an organization that makes the right promises and enables the front line to keep those promises will it have the opportunity to provide the kind of service on the front end that can make reactive customer service expendable.

    As for the Feb 1st meeting with the CEO, I’d start with what s/he and their C-level peers need to commit in terms of behavior. I’d cascade that down to what behaviors their functional groups have to do in order to provide the kind of internal service that we’re asking our organization to provide our customers, and then finally how the front line providers are enabled to keep the service promises we’re making.

    What I’ve described is not for the faint-of-heart – in fact, it’s about the most complex & difficult an undertaking a business could commit to. It likely takes more hours than you have in 2010. And I suspect it’s also why most managers use the “other” route, use of as little reactive service support as they can get away with before mass customer defection / rioting, often accompanied by willingly turning down the “service dial” when the company needs to achieve an incremental quarterly result.

  8. Your comments were absolutely worth the wait, Chris. Thanks so much for your analysis. The part that actually struck me the most is in your last comment. I read an article about a month ago titled "Recession Ending. CEO's refocusing on Customers" That title indicates the disconnect of which you speak. Thanks again for a comment that blows away the post. Awesome!

  9. amazing!

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