When I was first managing a new customer support team I moved into the area a few hours a day so I could get a feel for how people were responding to customer calls. It wasn’t soon before I heard a relatively new Customer Support Rep (CSR) say to a customer, “I don’t know why we don’t have that product in stock, there is no telling what those guys are doing over there in production. I’ve told them we need this but they do whatever they want,” or something like that. Now, this particular product wasn’t typically in stock so it wasn’t like this was a surprising situation. Unfortunately, in an attempt to protect herself from criticism, this CSR was trying to shift blame. What she failed to understand is that in the customer’s mind, she was the company and he didn’t really care whether production, sales, the general manager, the maintenance person or the CSR was to blame, all he knew was that the company was not doing what he wanted. When she said ‘they’ the customer didn’t have a clue who “they” were. I tried to explain this by telling her that “we are they”. She didn’t get it. So, I then tried to explain that she represented the company and when she said ‘they’, meaning production, the customer still heard ‘we’. I told her she was representing the company and instead of trying to shift blame, she needed to just apologize. “But its not MY fault,” she exclaimed. Realizing that if she couldn’t separate her personage from the job, she wouldn’t be with us long, I again explained that she wasn’t apologizing for herself, but for the company. She was acknowledging the customer’s dissatisfaction and apologizing (on behalf of the company) for not meeting the customer’s expectations. I explained she could have shared that this product is a made-to-order product and has a lead time, and then she should have apologized. Unfortunately, she still didn’t understand why she had to accept the blame.

It is absolutely necessary that everyone who works with customers understand that they do NOT represent themselves. They are the customer’s face of the company and they represent the organization – all of the organization. It is critical that leaders work to ensure that various departments do not see themselves as separate from the rest of the organization. Building a cohesive team requires establishing and maintaining effective communication so that walls are not built between departments. A wise former manager of mine always said that the sales and marketing department is not the whole company, but the whole company IS the sales and marketing department. Everyone who touches the customer must see themselves as part of the marketing and sales effort and must speak in a single voice on behalf of the organization.