My last post looked at a common cause of poor internal or external customer service rooted in not seeing – or hearing – customers in 3D. A major contributor to this problem, and the resulting “functional chimneys,” is management’s failure to listen to the needs of service teams and their individual contributors. “If you don’t listen well, you can’t involve people,” says an award winning company’s vice president of quality. “Involvement means winning the hearts and minds of your associates. If you don’t listen, they know you think they’re unimportant.”

Many legendary customer service companies like Southwest Airlines or FedEx operate by the philosophy that the customer comes second. They have found that by first serving frontline service providers they will then serve customers. Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines lays out the relationship “my mother taught me that your employees come first. If you treat them well, then they treat the customers well, and that means your customers come back and your shareholders are happy.”

One litmus test of how well management is listening to, and serving its servers, is the user friendliness of the organization’s technology and administrative systems. In far too many cases, management-driven systems and technology hinder more than help the delivery of high internal or external service. It’s often a wonder that performance isn’t worse considering the defective tools many employees have to work with. Service is delivered in spite of, not because of, the organizational systems and technology. The president of one company puts the problem into perspective: “In a lot of ways, management has handcuffed and shackled our people, then told them to hop out there and build better products or deliver improved service. And then we beat them up when they fail to overcome the restraints we’ve put on them.”

Far too often, the organization’s technology and especially administrative systems are designed either for management’s convenience or because in all management’s benevolent wisdom, they know what the frontline needs. In fact, they are mind readers — they don’t even have to ask them! So, if servers and frontline teams think the systems or technology are hindering service levels, well, then they obviously have an attitude or motivational problem. So let’s give them a good stiff dose of training or motivation injections so they will use management’s systems and technology!

Employee engagement and other organizational surveys show very low levels of organizational listening to frontline individuals and teams. But as the famous “word mangler” Yogi Berra might have said “it’s not rocket surgery.” How can a team member eagerly seek to understand the needs of his or her internal or external customer if their own needs are not looked after? It just doesn’t happen.

It starts with seeing – and hearing – team members in 3D. It finishes with following through and acting on what we learn.