Is Your Company Facing Organisational Schizophrenia? Watch out for the symptoms!

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In this age of strongly emerging customer capitalism, companies all over the world are facing similar challenges with respect to customer satisfaction and beyond. I have participated in social media discussions on various customer service issues, for a period of about three months now. It is quite clear that even though discussions are initiated by professionals from different countries the basic issues being raised cut across the geographical boundaries. One issue that, understandably, comes up again and again is that of organisational culture. That is what prompted me to write this blog.

A perplexing tryst with some of the reputed companies known for highly customer-centric culture raised a number of questions in my mind and I set out on targeted empirical research to explore why even highly regarded, well-equipped and well-meaning companies fail to deliver the promised quality of service. For you to appreciate the significance of this research let me share some back ground with you as well as the broad findings of this research.

A top notch bank went too far in blaming me for a bounced check only to find that the bank had committed a serious mistake. A major automobile dealer deliberately used an outdated price list and collected more money before delivering the car to me. An “ethics driven” insurance company generated a fake letter to justify three months delay in refunding a double payment. A “friendly” housing bank took more than 150 days to pay an overdue interest on a term deposit.

In the process of resolving my complaints with these companies, I came face to face with two distinct facets of people’s behavior within the same company. The pattern of behavior was almost similar in each case.
• At the operating level, I did get plenty of lip service but in terms of real action it was a usual mix of apathy, evasiveness and attempt to wriggle out of a bad situation.
• At the senior/top management level, executives were apologetic about what they thought was inexcusable lapse in meeting my genuine expectations, paid involved attention, quickly understood the issue and made sure that my complaints were resolved to my satisfaction with the utmost speed.
The whole scenario defied any logic and many questions started agitating my mind. I decided to explore:
• Where does a disconnect take place between intent and implementation; promise and performance; policy and practice?
• Why do mission/vision statements and internal policy directives fail to inspire the front-line employees to act purposefully?
• Does this represent a cultural diversion within some parts of the company?
• What is the root cause for an organisation to behave in a schizophrenic manner?

The research spanning twelve companies, 200 individual respondents and a period of three years and a half turned out to be quite revealing. Conflicting communications, lax review processes, unpunished value violations and lack of culture of discipline resulted in distorted perception of employees’ self-interest. All put together, I found that the companies were facing an internal turmoil which can best be described as cultural turmoil or organisational schizophrenia. Loss of objectivity, ambiguity and indecision can lead to action paralysis, the values and customer focus become a question mark and initiative suddenly becomes risky. All that has direct bearing on the company’s responsiveness to meeting customers’ expectations.

A company could end up inviting organisational schizophrenia to creep in if its employees:
1. begin to urge the customers to escalate their complaint to the top leadership.
2. revel in passing the buck more often rather than taking ownership of a problem.
3. display inordinate fondness for subordination rather than to fighting a blundering system.
4. feel that consequences of exceeding the approved expense budgets are a stronger deterrent than the penalty for shed¬ding business ethics.
5. willingness to deal with a situation is stifled by lack of knowledge resulting in loss of self-esteem.
6. shy away from putting in the much needed stretch effort for exceptional customer care.
7. feel that internal customers and dealers suffer from lack of logistic support
8. perceive that their feedback is not taken seriously
9. find that fighting crises is a norm rather than an exception.
10. feel that the review processes suffer from the lack of rigour necessary to raise the issues to the level of accountability.

Organisational schizophrenia can hit any company with the attendant negative impact on quality of customer service. The findings of the research with the supporting case studies have since been documented in a book titled Organisational Schizophrenia: Impact on Customer Service Quality (SAGE 2013) http://bit.ly/1au7JeJ . The book makes out a spirited case for the business leaders and managers at various levels of hierarchy to sit up and consciously exercise the rigour of disciplined thought and action across the organisation. A culture of discipline alone can help in filling the widening gaps between promise and performance; between intent and execution.

Gopal Gureja
Spanning 1960-1996, service manager in mfg. sector - Thermax Ltd; business unit head, member of board of directors; Published Creating Customer Value (Tata McGraw-Hill, 1997); taught Relationship Mktg/CRM at business schools, wrote sporadic articles for business dailies; Authored Organisational Schizophrenia: Impact on Customer service quality (SAGE, 2013), occasional consulting/speaking assignments.

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