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Are you living in a glass house?

Published: May 23, 2017
Author: Cary Cusumano


The great 20th century philosopher and theologian, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, once told an audience of convicted criminals to whom he was speaking in a prison setting, that there was one difference between them and him: “You got caught. I didn’t.” It was a simple, humble acknowledgement that every one of us is guilty of having done the wrong thing at some time or another. 

It is with this in mind that I observe the social media and late night talk show “feeding frenzy” over the disturbing video of a man being dragged off an aircraft earlier this month. It was a scene that at first glance gives all of we “reasonable” people a platform to express our moral indignation over an action we are surely above ever carrying out. It’s easy to wag our fingers at the offending airline until we step back and recognize this as an extreme outcome of a common root cause of which we are all guilty: knowing our behaviors aggravate customers and willingly practicing them anyway.

 Behind this incident is the practice of overbooking — selling more seats than the airline actually has. Customers hate this. Airlines know this. They do it anyway. Unwilling to bear the risk of possibly losing the revenue associated with an empty seat, they transfer that risk to the customer. When it’s realized, the customer is the one who is left inconvenienced, while some might be happy with the offer of compensation, others — like the passenger in the recent incident — are much less so. 

It’s not just airlines that overbook — hotels, physicians and restaurants do similar things. And, anyway, this isn’t just about overbooking. No one is immune to being indifferent about customer preferences. How many organizations force customers to an online portal to complete transactions despite having them on the phone already? How many close service tickets having never resolved a customer’s issue? These are the behaviors that destroy customer trust, and ultimately, your brand. 

These practices make a statement to your customers: that there is something — risk management, shareholders, “the process”, your metrics — that is more important to you than they are. It doesn’t matter what it is — as soon as they understand you value anything more than them, you are operating in a trust deficit. It’s not a transactional problem — although often the priorities manifest themselves in individual “moments of truth.” Rather, it’s a cultural problem, a statement about the house you’ve built around what your organizational values are. And if it’s a glass house, be careful of the stones you cast. 

You can build a more robust structure though. Take the time to read and understand customer feedback — it will help you identify frustration points.

A 2016 CX Impact Award winner from the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA), Cary Cusumano is a Customer Experience and Design Thinking practitioner in Verizon Enterprise Solutions. He is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and Certified Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.