As they grow, why do so many organisations lose the ability to show genuine care?
Is it possible for large organisations to scale genuine care for their employees and customers?
Or are we set to lose genuine human connection in business?
These questions have been playing on my mind recently as I’ve been pondering this year’s crop of organisational failures from a human point of view.
A prime example is TSB’s IT meltdown. This caused 1.9 million of the bank’s customers to be locked out of their accounts, led to a loss of £107 million, and triggered the resignation of the bank’s chief executive, Paul Pester. 159,000 of TSB’s customers complained and to date the bank has failed to reply to an astonishing 87,000 of them.
Josep Oliu Creus, chair of TSB’s Spanish owner Sabadell, said, in somewhat of an understatement, compensation efforts had “not gone the way I would like.”
The Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) investigation into TSB’s meltdown will include, for the first time, the subject of how communication was handled. Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, said they were “dissatisfied with TSB’s communications with its customers,” and that the “bank’s poor communication may have hit customers’ trust in banking.” Nicky Morgan MP, chair of the Treasury select committee, described TSB’s public communications as “complacent and misleading.”
Is this a growing trend?
TSB isn’t alone in its woes. Many blue-chip companies are losing money, principally due to their lack of genuine engagement with their customers. In 2017, I was just one of the people who left British Gas, as it lost 1.3 million of its customer accounts. And the energy giant hasn’t been able to stem this flow: in the first half of 2018 it lost a further 270,000 customers.
These stories illustrate what I consistently see in my work. As a communication change and transformation specialist I work with many large organisations. I’ve noticed something seems to happen to their ability to communicate effectively when they reach around the 2,000 employee mark. It seems that, as organisations grow, they find it harder and harder to communicate in a way that connects with people and is easy to understand. This problem is apparent in how they communicate with both their employees and their customers.
And as it’s people who generate value, if these businesses aren’t talking to us in a language we understand, they’re literally throwing away their value.
Of course, there are exceptions. first direct does a great job of merging large-scale convenience with strong customer service and rightly deserves all the customer service awards it wins. Apple justifiably prides itself on putting its customers at the heart of everything it does. And enjoys profits that speak for themselves.
But the successes of first direct and Apple, I would argue, have become the exception rather than the rule.
Why we need to put people back at the heart of business
Advances in technology are driving change. There’s no doubt that some of these changes are incredible, allowing new businesses to develop and existing businesses to grow in ways few of us could have imagined.
But advances in technology have also changed our priorities. The natural order has shifted from people, process, technology to technology, process, people. If this trend continues unchecked, I believe it will lead to even more adverse consequences. For our business. And for us as people.
Because, isn’t it ironic that while we’re more digitally connected than ever, we’re much less connected to each other as people?
How many times have you battled with an automated switchboard, struggling to match the reason for your call to the choices you’re given? Press one for more choices, none of which will match your actual query and all of which will send you into a spiral of frustration and despair. When people make a call on the telephone it’s because they want to speak to another human being. Someone who can help them, quickly and with care.
We’ve allowed ourselves to become too dependent on IT, as I and thousands of other customers found out recently at Euston Station. When their IT system went down, their staff were unable to do the most basic thing: sell tickets. I couldn’t even pay for a cup of coffee. We were left stranded in darkness and an eerie silence.
Organisations need to show us that they care – not just tell us they do. Genuinely caring for your employees and customers is good business. If you don’t, the bigger your organisation, the bigger the backlash is likely to be when things go wrong. Let’s face it, the speed at which social media can spread a negative message is chilling.
So, the moral of the tale for large organisations is clear. Embrace technology by all means. But make sure you balance this with genuine, human connection. Your employees and customers require and deserve it. And it will make the difference to your bottom line.
Otherwise, one fears, there’ll be many more organisational meltdowns to come.