One of life’s truly frustrating scenarios involves being able to “go right to the top” to get a question answered, problem resolved, or to simply give an opinion. There are many times that the little guy needs to vent and only wants the big guy to hear his rant. The problem is, the big guy has found many ways to insulate himself from the people he depends on to make a living.

How many times have you wanted to give a piece of your mind to a company president or CEO whose product has just disintegrated in your hands or broken down on its first use? How many times have you wanted to talk to the boss about an employee who has exhibited poor customer service or even offended you? I have to chuckle when I think of the latter - because I can think of many times I have wanted to speak with “someone in charge,” only to be told by the very person who offended me, “I am in charge.”

Excuse me if I don’t believe that one. There is always someone higher up than the person who prefers to stop you cold in his tracks. But you seldom get a chance to get by the guard dogs who would rather endure a tirade of obscenities than to transfer your call to the real boss. After all, it is their job to insulate the boss, not expose him to angry callers.

And even if a person simply wants to make conversation with the boss, perhaps even offer a compliment, why aren’t they allowed to do so?

DON'T GET ME WRONG

I believe there is always a time and a place for chain of command. If I were the boss, I’d certainly want some type of protection from people who, although well intentioned, may take up too much of my time and take me away from more urgent matters. Excuse me, did I say urgent matters? I guess that must have slipped out. Certainly I am not suggesting that dealing with a customer is an urgent matter. That would be like me having to deal with a NEWS’reader with a question about an article or a tip for a future story. I am much too busy writing stories and doing research to have to deal with people interrupting my schedule. I’d never be able to get my work done.

In the age of do-it-yourself home offices, such as mine, I don’t have the luxury of a secretary or receptionist to screen all of my incoming calls. I do have the luxury (thank you caller I.D. and e-mail) of seeing who is trying to reach me so that I can ignore the person or choose to answer. It looks like I’m talking myself into liking chain of command. The more I talk about it, the more I like it. Only in my case, I am the beginning and end of the chain. My only companions are voice mail and e-mail. So much for my chain. I guess I’ll have to let people keep pulling it. But I digress.

THE POINT EMERGES

The point I am trying to make is this: If you choose to ignore your customers because you are ball-and-chained to a chain of command process, or if you simply choose to not deviate from your daily routines, you will probably be richly rewarded with fewer customers and declining profits. If you have a chain of command, I’d suggest adding a pressure relief valve to the process (maybe you can label it an intervention valve, or an exception valve).

Call it whatever you like, but don’t ignore it. I think there are too many examples in the real business world of opportunities missed by companies that adhere to the chain of command rule and do not deviate. There are always exceptions to every rule.

If you prefer to pass along all customer relations responsibilities to your employees and empower them to be a conduit between customers and your company, you might be playing with fire. It is honorable and noble to trust your people to handle your customers, but are you ready to let them all be the face of your company? Are you ready to relinquish your identity and become faceless?

If you are, you may have a short memory. Remember the consolidation craze of the late 1990s? There were a lot of faceless executives back then.

OK, back to work. I’d be happy to hear from you. Really.

Publication date:06/11/2007