3D is all the rage today. Movies like Avatar take us to a new level of realism. TV manufacturers are furiously announcing new 3D systems. Apple has reportedly filed patents for special 3D glasses technology. Adding the third dimension of depth to a movie brings us up close and puts us into the action.

Are you getting the same depth of experience with your customers? Whether serving external or internal customers, too many teams and organizations echo the (now defunct) company executive’s candid reflections on the roots of their demise, “We didn’t always listen to what the customer had to say before telling him what he wanted.”

The gap separating mediocre and outstanding service/quality performers is often widest in the amount and frequency of customer listening. One sure sign of an organization that is not listening to customers are the “vertical chimneys” separating functions, departments, and teams. This is an organization structured from the inside out. The service chain pulling customer needs across the organization is weak or nonexistent. Instead, teams throw what they think their internal or the external customers need down that group’s “chimney.” So chefs stay in their kitchens, IT professionals interact with their computers, engineers hide in their offices, purchasing departments rarely visit suppliers, and managers huddle in their meeting rooms.

A serious consequence of not truly understanding – or caring about – customer needs is inconsistent levels of service across the organization. Each professional, frontline staff, and manager provides the kind of service they think their internal or external customer should want. They wrongly practice The Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. High service providers follow The Platinum Rule; do unto others as they want to be done onto.

In a “we’re the experts” environment, customer perceptions are often discounted or ignored. Responses depend on how seriously that individual or team views the problem, from their own perspective. Comments like “that’s just their perception, that’s not reality” run rampant. Since the customer’s true needs are not understood or appreciated, they are often minimized. Customers are seen in only one or two dimensions – often as a source of revenue, someone to be dictated to, or even an annoyance getting in the way of real work.

A new IT manager brought in to turn around this badly faltering internal service group found that internal reports on problems with the system design were not taken seriously by software engineers. They argued that the customers were wrong. The engineer who designed the system defended it’s effectiveness as “good as or better than all the competition out there, and I can’t help it if the customer doesn’t like it.”

High performing service providers partner with their internal or external customers to really understand what they are trying to accomplish and how the provider’s product or service might fill that need. Peak performers look and listen with as much depth, and from as many dimensions as possible. Are you seeing – and hearing – your customers in 3D?