Intended Direction and Results

Ascertain, from the top of the organization on down, what the company intends to accomplish. What is the business plan about, what is the strategic intent and purpose of the organization, what results are expected from the business activity of the organization, and, most importantly, how are these things talked about, described, and communicated level by level?

This one area alone can yield very telling data about the "way things are done around here." For example, most of the airline industry is very overt about the importance of customer service and satisfying customer needs. At the boardroom level, and generally at the senior executive level, this is clearly understood as an issue of competitive position and repeat business.

Yet, when you talk to the people on the plane, at check-in, and in the airline club, the definition of customer service and customer satisfaction can take on some interesting nuances. For example, on one major carrier the cabin crew will first note that their "real job" is safety, with the "service" aspects a clear second; in fact, when the "service" part of the flight commences, passengers are usually asked to stay in their seats and not get in the way. On another carrier, passengers are immediately encouraged to make their wishes known as "the crew is here to make your flight as pleasant and comfortable as possible."

When asked about efforts to improve customer satisfaction, the former carrier's staff talk about the money being spent on upgrading meals, decor of the aircraft, enlarged lounges, and other physical aspects the airline is providing; the latter carrier's staff talk about the passenger "experience" and their part in assuring the customer is "satisfied enough to choose us again next time," with a clear emphasis on the interpersonal service provided. One focuses on equipment and the other on attitude as the key components in customer satisfaction—both valid, but very different.

A convincing case can be made for either approach, but imagine the differing views and arguments that could ensue down through the ranks if these two carriers merged, even though both clearly value customer satisfaction and service as key elements of their business plans.

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