The Silver Lining Behind Verizon’s Worker Strike

A strike compels managers to do something they rarely do.

A strike of 40,000 Verizon employees could be the best thing that’s ever happened to the telecom company’s customer experience.

That’s not because the managers filling in for the front-line workers are any better at serving customers (a company executive acknowledged as much in a recent Washington Post interview).

Rather, it’s because these managers are getting a first-hand, unvarnished look at what it’s like to be on the front-line.  They’re seeing, with their own eyes, the obstacles that hamper employees’ best efforts to deliver a consistently great customer experience.

Verizon managers and professional staff who normally work with spreadsheets, reports and legal briefs are instead donning call center headsets, laying fiber optic cable and installing Internet service.  And, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, when these organizational leaders temporarily take on a front-line role, they’re spotting a variety of improvement opportunities.

An operations head whose management reports frequently showed wide variations in TV/Internet installation times suddenly saw the reasons why such variations exist – putting him in a much better position to come up with solutions.

An engineer who normally monitored Verizon’s network from an office cubicle quickly discovered how work schedules can be completely disrupted when installers don’t get the information they need (such as whether a customer’s residence has previously been wired for cable or internet).

Front-line annoyances – things that make workers’ jobs harder than they need to be – also came to light, such as how quickly the batteries drained in field technicians’ smartphones and tablets.  (A Verizon manager is now exploring supplying the company’s installers with portable battery packs for their devices.)

What all of these examples illustrate are the inherent limitations of relying on spreadsheets, reports and other traditional management information sources to reveal workplace impediments.

The internal obstacles that undermine a company’s customer experience are frequently rooted in some of the most mundane and unglamorous activities.  They involve things that often don’t make it into a management report or get discussed at an executive staff meeting.

By periodically venturing “into the wild” and stepping into the shoes of their employees, managers can guard against this blind spot.  They can witness what’s really happening on the front-lines, and gain insight that’s difficult to obtain in any other way.

When armed with this unfiltered perspective, managers are much better equipped to develop actionable improvement plans – the kind that don’t just enhance the customer experience, but the employee experience, too.

Don’t wait for a worker strike or some other crisis situation before venturing out to your front-line.  Set aside time now and start walking a few miles in your staff’s shoes.

As Verizon’s managers are fast learning, there’s no better way to understand – and start overcoming – the internal impediments that can sabotage your customer experience.

*          *          *

Jon Picoult is Founder & Principal of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress their customers and inspire their employees.  As a consultant and keynote speaker, he has advised thousands of business leaders across some of the world’s foremost brands.

Contact Jon at www.watermarkconsult.net, or follow him on Twitter @JonPicoult.