Manage company growth more effectively

It turns out the online promotion was not being honored at the store.  In talking to one of the sales people about my options he told me he could pull some strings and get me the same deal.  I took it home, plugged it in, and it worked great.  I was a happy customer.  That is until the bill came.  I noticed I was being charged an additional service fee for the store purchase.  What happened next was what really got me thinking about growing pains companies and their customers experience when they are not prepared for rapid growth or expansion.  I called customer service.

The support representative was nice enough, but after explaining the situation several times she could find only one solution.  I needed to take the device back to the store, return it. I would then need to go online, sign up for the deal and wait for exactly the same device to be mailed to me.  No way.  What an enormous waste of time and money for everyone involved.

I decided to prod a little so I could better understand the internal workings and maybe get a different resolution.  With a few questions, I found out she herself was frustrated with the sales person.  She was frustrated with the company software she was using as it physically wouldn’t let her apply the promotion to my account even if she wanted to.  She was even more frustrated that she had never heard of the online deal, before I called.  I sympathized with her and explained how I could definitely see how poor planning and communication, and not having the tools and autonomy needed to do her job could be stressful.

There are a few things I see here that are symptomatic of a company that has a widening gap between infrastructure and growth:

Poor communication – When companies grow quickly they undergo many changes in a short period of time.  Information becomes siloed and lines of communication between groups break down.

Poor planning – Strategic planning is a must in any change initiative and especially when dealing with plans for expansion.  It’s important to take a systematic approach and consider all of the aspect of the change (including customer experience) not just financial considerations.

Lack of clear job roles – As roles expand or are created, the situation turns to one in which people do what they want to do and say that the remaining tasks are “not my job.”  This was very evident in my encounter.  The support person said a number of times that “this is a store issue” or “I can’t help with store related problems.”  To me, the customer, the company has one face.  Internally that didn’t appear to be the case.

Lack of resources – Employees need to have the tools that will be required to support growth.  In this case the support person felt her “hands were tied.”

I wonder if senior leadership of this company are truly aware of the issues their employees and customers are facing.  In a press release, they describe their growth last year as “phenomenal,” reporting sales doubled in Q3.  They anticipated by the end of 2011 they would see double what they expected in terms of a customer base.  Surely, they have a lot on their plates.  How much better would the situation be if they were armed with feedback from their employees?

If I had to make one recommendation to this company, it would be to pay attention to what is happening on the front lines.  It’s so important to give employees a voice and support them in supporting your customers.  Employees have an understanding what is and is not working in day-to-day activities.  They want to know their opinions count and can shed light on things leaders can’t see.  In order to truly leverage employees’ experiences, leaders must listen, let employees know what they are hearing, and show employees how their feedback has created real and meaningful change.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I did get the support person to find a work-around to remove the fee, but the company could have had this one employee handle about 5 more calls in the hour she spent trying to find a solution for me without much support.