The Need For Top Management Commitment

From 10+ years of working with organizations on customer service improvement initiatives, I can say without hesitation that the number one ingredient for success is top management commitment. While an improvement initiative can begin anywhere in the organization, top management support quickly becomes required for the initiative to gain any real traction. Without such support, the organization's naysayers and skeptics will eventually squeeze the life out of the effort.

The situation is effectively explained in an excellent book, Chief Customer Officer: Getting Past Lip Service to Passionate Action, by Jeanne Bliss. In a chapter titled, "Machine of Mediocrity," Bliss says that while improving the customer experience is a noble goal, such initiatives often fail for three reasons: "(1) the customer 'thing' is still considered something layered on to the existing work, (2) there's no one clearly in charge or able to take charge of knitting the pieces together, and (3) there are dueling silos."

Each of the reasons Bliss cites calls out for senior management commitment and support. At some point in the improvement process, things are going to get messy. Some players won't want to play. Some won't play if the game isn't played their way. And when things get messy the blame game or avoidance game begins, resulting in a death spiral for the initiative. If, however, the CEO sees the customer experience improvement effort as an integral part of the organization's strategy, the organization is much more likely to muscle through the inevitable setbacks or challenges along the way. When the leader makes success non-negotiable, it's amazing how things get done.

While I've focused this message on senior leadership and the CEO in particular, this same principle applies on a smaller scale. At the division level, the division leader must be 100 percent committed. At the department level, it's the department head who will set the tone. Wherever the service improvement initiative is targeted, the group's leader will be the ultimate determinant of success or failure.

If you are the senior leader of your organization (or your piece of the organization), know that it is up to you to set the improvement initiative up for success. If you're not in that position, but desire to implement a customer service improvement strategy, the sooner you get senior leadership involved and excited the better. And if senior leadership refuses to get involved and excited, or simply pays lip service by saying something like, "Sure, go ahead and give it a try; you have my blessing," don't believe it. You have their blessing until things get messy, or expensive.

I don't mean for this post to sound cynical or depressing. But from my experience, what I've written here accurately describes the situation. Senior leadership commitment is the critical element of any successful service initiative.