…No, it’s not. And here’s how I know: I’ve been on the phone with your company for 15 minutes…most of that time I’ve been on hold, listening to muzac. When I finally get to speak to someone, he’s reading a script and he keeps mispronouncing my name.
The least you can do is stop saying “your call is important to us.”
Everyone – EVERYONE(!) – hates being treated like a number.
We’ve come to expect this kind of treatment when we’re dealing with big companies. When I have a question about my cell phone bill, I expect that my conversation with customer service is going to be painful.
But here’s the thing: there are companies that are starting to reset our expectations about customer service. Zappos is probably the leading example here. An online shoe store that made its name with amazing customer service.
A while back, I spoke with a customer service rep at Vanguard. And I was thrilled when she took ownership of actually solving my problem. For those 10 minutes that I was talking to the Vanguard rep, my call actually was important to her.
And one experience like that changes your expectation about all your other interactions with big companies.
The same thing is happening in the workplace
No surprise here: The corporate workplace all too often treats its employees like numbers. One of the comments I got back from last week’s post captures that feeling:
Probably the #1 irony in the corporate workplace – companies know how to hire good people, they just don’t have any clue how to create creative, positive, energizing work environments.
Unfortunately, that’s true of too many workplaces.
And just like with our expectations about customer service, our expectations about the workplace are changing, too. People are expecting more than an anonymous, boring job that pays a nice check. And they’re voting with their feet. Professionals are going solo or moving to companies that get it.
Starting with Transparency
One of the companies leading the way in workplace transformation is 37signals. They are a successful, profitable company with a progressive workplace culture. They blow up the argument that you can’t be profitable and have a fun, transparent and meaningful workplace.
One of the best pieces of writing to come from the 37signals blog recently was David Heinemeier Hansson’s critique of Yahoo’s new work from home policy. I’m less concerned about the merits of Yahoo’s actual policy here, and more concerned about the reasoning that they provided in their memo. As David pointed out, the reasoning doesn’t really pass the sniff test:
Great work simply doesn’t happen in environments with so little trust. Revoking the “yard time privileges” like this reeks of suspicions that go far beyond just people with remote work arrangements. Read this line one more time: “please use your best judgment in the spirit of collaboration”. When management has to lay it on so thick that they don’t trust you with an afternoon at home waiting for the cable guy without a stern “please think of the company”, you know something is horribly broken.
The real message is that teams and their managers can’t be trusted to construct the most productive environments on their own. They are so mistrusted, in fact, that a “zero tolerance” policy is needed to ensure their compliance. No exceptions!
After reading David’s piece, Yahoo’s explanation feels like business-speak, it feels kind of phony. It feels like “your call is important to us.”
Why not just treat people like adults?
Here’s another bit of irony. The best professionals out there. The ones that have worked for years to improve their craft. The ones that have successfully solved difficult problems in the past. The ones that are great to work with even on the most challenging projects. They are actually really really good at dealing with tough situations. That’s how they became great employees! And they understand that the world isn’t always perfect.
When the economy goes into a down cycle, people get that businesses need to do layoffs. They just want to be treated respectfully and transparently. Lose the business speak, the double standards and the legalistic stance, and people will be pretty understanding. Pam sums this feeling up:
By now, we are all aware that no job in any industry is secure. They can be re-scoped, eliminated or outsourced at any time. And that is the way it should be – no organization can be static in today’s environment. But despite this common knowledge, many of your managers act betrayed when their employees tell them they want to leave the company. This is an absolute double standard and should be stopped immediately. If you help your employees grow and develop in their career even if they plan to leave the company, you will create an extremely loyal workforce.
One more question
If you’re an exec, think about this. Think about how you feel when you need to call your phone company to ask a question about a bill. You’re on the phone for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. And for the 8th time you hear “your call is important to us.” And you just feel frustrated with how you’re being treated. Now, how would you feel if your best employees thought of your company like that?