Do Your Employees Know Their REAL Job?


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Some service failures are frustratingly obvious.

Take this one for example. I spoke at the CRM Evolution 2014 conference last week. The conference was fantastic (re-cap here).

There was just a small issue with how the hotel set up my breakout room:

It’s obvious that seats shouldn’t be placed directly behind this enormous pillar. So, why did it happen? Ironically, I touched on the root cause in my session on hidden causes of poor customer service.

The root cause is employees who didn’t know their real job.

Try to see this room through the eyes of the people who were responsible. An obvious blunder can easily be overlooked when people are focused on tactical responsibilities:

  • The salesperson who sold the room was focused on selling the event.
  • Banquet staff who set up the room were focused on the event plan.
  • Audio visual staff were focused on the technology.

Nobody stopped to question the big picture because they weren’t looking at the big picture.

The problem is caused by something called framing that allows your customers to see what you don’t. The tough part is framing happens to us instinctively. And, it’s further supported by job descriptions that read like a laundry list of tasks.

So, what is their real job? Their real job should be helping their guests enjoy a successful conference.

View the job this way and there are multiple opportunities to prevent this service failure from happening.

  • The salesperson could have offered a different room or a different set-up.
  • The banquet staff could have set up the room without the obstructed seating.
  • An audio visual person could have noticed the obstruction and alerted the banquet staff.

Help Employees Find Their Real Job

On a strategic level, companies need a strong customer service vision. This is a shared definition of outstanding customer service that’s understood by all employees. 

On a tactical level, employees should see their jobs from their customers’ perspective. Here’s an exercise that can help: 

  1. Write down some of your basic job duties.
  2. Re-imagine each one from your customers’ perspective. 

Here are some examples of customer-focused perspectives excerpted from my book, Service Failure

Sales reps at a flower and plant wholesaler decided their role was helping florists (their primary customer) grow their businesses by helping them select flowers and plants that will sell well in their shops.

Information technology employees working on a college campus determined that their role was helping faculty and staff minimize downtime from malfunctioning computers.

Call center agents at a medical device manufacturer realized their role was helping to save lives by making sure the right products got to the right doctor in time to help the patients who need them.

Service failures are often obvious, but discovering their root causes can often require deeper insight. I’ve compiled a set of ten exercises you can use to help your team understand some of these obstacles. You can access them by downloading the free Service Failure Workbook

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Jeff… this is also a perennial issue for managers and the organisation.

    I first came across it in Ted Levitt’s HBR article “Marketing Myopia.” There’s a subtle, though dramatic, difference in asking “what do you do?” versus “what business are you really in?”

    Most job descriptions deal with the first question. The second question is rarely asked.

    The best answers of these 2 questions is from Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, “in the factory we make cosmetics. In the stores we sell hope.”

  2. Always safe to follow the maxim of TQ guru W. Edwards Deming: He asserts that everyone in the organization is “either serving the customer or supporting someone who does.” This means that the ideal of ambassadorship needs to permeate the entire company.

  3. Michael – I think that’s the mystery we need to solve. Why don’t more companies get this?

    Deming isn’t exactly new. And, other great business minds before him said similar things. The concepts are out there and they’re proven, yet only a select few companies seem to be focused on them.


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