From the Editor: Keep the Customer Satisfied
Allan H. Church
W. Warner Burke Associates, Inc.
Well, Spring is finally here, and, if you are reading this piece, so
too is the April 1999 issue of TIP (unless of course, you are reading this early on
the Web, in which case I suggest you confer with Roseanne Roseanna Danna for her opinion
on the matter). Although the usual suspects are all included here as always, we also have
a number of interesting features and special articles in this issue, which I will
introduce shortly. I hope you find these items interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even
insightful. Maybe a few of these articles (or even those from prior issues of TIP)
will spark some conversation and debate at our upcoming conference in Atlanta. If so, then
we have done our job, and if not, we would like to hear from you.
So as you begin to prepare yourself for this year's meeting of the I-O
minds (and other less cerebral minglings at the social hour and assorted "theme"
gatherings, for lack of a better term), try to remember what you've liked and disliked
about TIP over the last year so that when you bump into either me or one of our
editorial board members, or if you come to the "Meet the TIP Board" session on
Saturday May 1st, you can give us your feedback. After all, we're just trying
to keep our customers satisfied.
I Can't Get No Satisfaction
Although I am always interested in hearing what our customers (i.e.,
this means you, oh faithful SIOP members) have to say about TIP, I have had my
doubts for years about some of the more general business notions that (a) the more focus
on the customer the better, and (b) the customer is always right. Ever since
these concepts were popularized in the early 1990s via a wave of best-selling management
books and mainstream business articles (probably in response to the burgeoning TQM
movement at time), I have wondered how far they might go and who will stop the insanity. I
mean the amount of heavy metal products contained in some of these titles alone like Putting
the Service-Profit Chain to Work (Heskett et al., 1994) and Total Customer Service:
The Ultimate Weapon (Davidow & Uttal, 1990), really has to make one stop and think
about the message that's being conveyed. Does attention to service quality really require
access to some type of bludgeoning device? Well, on second thought, given some of the
consultants I know perhaps it does, but I digress.
Now, you may be wondering why such a strong focus on the customers'
needs and their being right all the time cause me so much anxiety? Perhaps this is merely
a defensive offshoot of my professional existence as an organization consultant who is
focused on content knowledge (or, dare I say, expertise) rather than process. Or in
other words, if the customer is always right then what do I have to offer? Or perhaps my
unease is because I know the truth is out there That is, that customers and clients
truly "can't get no satisfaction" no matter what you doand as Jack
Nicholson would say, I can't handle it. From this perspective, it's like submitting an
article for publicationsomeone is always bound to critique something about it. Or
perhaps it is merely an excuse for me to comment about yet another somewhat odd facet of
our society (I'll take this one, thank you).
Whatever the reason, the emphasis on providing superior customer
service has been taken so far, it seems, that at times it can be confusing as to who is
really the service provider and who is the customer. Of course, Katz and Kahn (1978) would
say that answer all depends on whether you consider yourself to be part of the input,
throughput, or output process. Nonetheless, in this environment the boundaries and roles
among them can easily get confused. Sometimes, for example, the people providing the
service think that somehow they deserve to be treated like customers by the very people
they are supposed to be serving. I mean, it's getting to the point where I think even the
local gas station attendant thinks he's the customer, not the other way around, when he
all but demands his tip. Talk about taking the service environment too far. It's like
going out to eat after a hard day at some chic restaurant that you've heard so much about
and being told by the waiter that the chef is not comfortable preparing your food
the way you requested it. It's like being told by the students in your class that they are
the customers, they've paid good money, and that they expect to get good grades (true
story, mind you, from our own Practice Network columnist Mike Harris not to mention
the subject of a recent article in Quality Progress by Jim Wallace, 1999). It's
like being called by your mortgage broker after making a firm and final offer on a house
that you know is already way overpriced and being told that, "you know, you really
can go higher, it's ok, I'll approve you for more debt, really."
Translationtake on that mortgage and give me my commission.
Don't get me wrong, I am all for treating the customer (any customer
for that matter) with dignity and respect. The point is, however, that the customer
service mentality can be taken too far. You will know this is the case when the tag line
in the medical profession changes from "just what the doctor ordered" to
"just what the patient wanted."
The other related problem with an over emphasis on customer service is
the notion that the customer is always right about something (sometimes anything
and everything for that matter). Unfortunately, the fact is that in some instances the
customer is, for lack of a better term, totally wrong. I don't know about every I-O or OD
practitioner out there, but there are times when a client (and I mean a real, paying
consulting client) makes a demand (and I mean a real firm demand) for access to
some multirater feedback or survey data that was collected under a confidential agreement
with respondents. These situations are not pleasant, but from my perspective the
protection of the anonymity of the individual must be fought for and ultimately ensured,
or the entire system fails.
In these instances, the customer is clearly not right (assuming
everything was clear in the contracting stage of the consulting processanother leap
of faith at times, I'm afraid). Although one does always have the option of litigation in
these matters as Virginia Boehm and Bill Gellermann offered in response to a
similar scenario back in TIP a few years ago (Church, Boehm, & Gellerman,
1994), these are neither pleasant nor easy situations to resolve.
Forget the fact that customers do not always know what they want or
even when they want it. Forget that half of the most significant technological inventions
in use today were never even dreamed of by our ancestors. Forget that there is a whole
industry (advertising and/or marketingtake your pick) devoted to convincing people
that any given product is in fact the most needed thing in our humdrum lives.
Forget the old adage about remembering to treat the problem (cause) not the symptom (i.e.,
the client's impetus for calling one in the first placethis works for both doctors
and consultants, by the way). Forget that research supports this notion (Daily, 1996) and
that new management books have since appeared that refute the old management books
(Rosenbluth & Peters, 1992). The bottom line is that someone (and I aim to take names)
has taken the notion of customer service just a wee bit too far.
How do I know this, you ask? What empirical evidence do I have to
support such a preposterous contention? Although numerous personal examples come to mind,
the most jarring and surreal (and impetus for this entire diatribe) occurred a few weeks
ago. Late one Thursday afternoon I received a call from an existing client, with whom our
firm has had a long relationship, requesting that everything be dropped to attend an
important meeting several hundred miles away, in the middle of nowhere, the following
Monday afternoon. Being in the business that we are, I dutifully dropped everything and
readied to meet the client.
We're on the Road to Nowhere
Early Monday morning came, however, and the agenda, directions to the
site, appropriate security clearances, and other sundry details remained unconfirmed.
Clearly, the person responsible for administering the details (not my client, mind you)
was not concerned with his customers (i.e., the meeting attendees, me included).
Nonetheless, a colleague of mine and I ventured on in response to our client's call to
arms. After traveling for some time on a propeller plane (not the most customer-driven
type of plane, I can tell you), obtaining directions to the site and our rental car (no
comment here), we were informed (at the rental counter no less) that the location of the
meeting had been changed entirely and to proceed somewhere else entirely. Away we went to
the new locationdescribed as "a distinguished alternative to meeting
rooms" designed by "a professional facilitator" promising "meetings of
style and substance" and all in the heart of historic small town U.S.A. This place
was "high tech" and "high touch," so claimed the brochure.
Although, as it turned out, the new meeting location was not difficult
to find (it was interesting to note, however, that the facilitator had indeed named the
building after herself), we were the first to arrive, making introductions and discussions
of purpose with the professional facilitator rather limited. Apparently, the other
participants in the meeting were just as surprised at our presence as we were (except, of
course, for our client who eventually arrived under protest). Without so much as a round
of introductions, the professional facilitator (who was totally unfamiliar with the
composition of this group or her chosen profession, for that matter) proceeded to present
the agenda for the meeting and describe in great detail the use of flip charts, the
multicolored friendly putty, friendly sticky pads, and squishy squeezy dinosaurs located
at each table setting in the "U-room." Needless to say, none of these gimmicks
was successful in enhancing the quality of the meeting, though I did enjoy the putty.
A day and half later with only 2 hours left before being mercifully
saved by the return drive and flight on the propeller plane (it was looking so much more
appealing now), the professional facilitator finally informed the ragtag group of
confused, and by this time either angry or mildly unconscious participants, of the true
purpose of the meetinga team-building session intended primarily for 4 (the team
members) of the 10 attendees. The rest of us were just so much flotsam and jetsam
retinuewhich explained why many of us were in a collective fog of cluelessness as to
purpose and objectives. In the end, the professional facilitator, who managed to coach the
group into producing several pages of gibberish on flip charts received a hearty round of
thanks from a number of other individuals in the room. Needless to say, not all
professional facilitators give the profession a good name, and for the first time I
finally had a full appreciation of some of the negative connotations typically associated
with some OD methods. When we finally made our exit, our client thanked us for coming and
apologized for the bizarre experience (in that order).
So what's the moral of the story? Clients do not always know what they
are doing, why they are doing it, or what they really want from their service providers.
In the world of I-O psychology and organization change and development, this means that we
as professionals need to be willing and able to challenge the status quoboth at the
individual/relationship and systems level. We need to feel empowered to push back without
fear of being replaced with another consultant that will do the client's bidding (a
phenomena also known as the vendor mindsetsee Church & Waclawski, 1998). The
more we let ourselves succumb to the "fear" resulting from the best service
provider model at the expense of all else including good old "common sense," the
more it will limit our ability to be practitioners as opposed to simply being technicians,
and the more trips to Abilene (Harvey, 1988), like the one described here, we are going to
make. While all that was lost here was 2 days of time, it could have been a great deal
worse, all in the name of keeping the customer satisfied.
Where Do We Go Now?
Well, enough of my storytelling and moralizing. It's time to introduce
the contents of this issue of TIP. As I mentioned earlier, this issue is packed
with a variety of interesting and useful items.
The issue begins with a farewell message from SIOP President Elaine
Pulakos. Thanks for hanging in there, Elaine, and for keeping the peace in the
hallowed halls of the SIOP ExCom.
Next, we have the long anticipated 1998 SIOP salary survey
resultspresented in living color by Jennifer L. Burnfield and Gina J.
Medsker of Human Resources Research Organization (who cosponsored the survey effort in
conjunction with SIOP). They provide a very interesting breakdown of salary levels by
various individual level and demographic variables.
Following is an article by Michael Cole, which adds to the
ever-growing commentary started last issue by Brent Holland, Bob Hogan, and Dana
Shelton in response to an earlier Real World column on the perceptions (generally
negative) of psychologists by the general public. Michael's message regarding definitional
precision in research is not dissimilar to the one I was making above regarding customer
serviceeverything can be overdone, including psychological terminology. Ironically
enough, the columnist who started this thread in the first place tackles the use of jargon
in our field in this very same issue.
Richard Phelps, an education economist based in Paris, provides an
extended analysis and critique of the National Research Council's report on Fairness in
Employment Testing. He concludes that the NRC may be far from the pinnacle of
objectivity it is intended to be.
I don't know about anyone else, but when I hear the phrase
"work-life balance" I always wonder what's being balanced other than say, sleep?
All kidding aside, the article by Scott Behson presents an interesting (and very
applied) look at work-family issues in the world of professional sports.
Recognizing that the latest issue of any publication in the late 1990s
would be incomplete without mentioning the name Bill Clinton, Jim Sharf offers up
an interesting analysis of the President's proposed solution to the gender pay gap. Jim's
analysis of the situation could lead one to believe Clinton's plan may only treat the
symptom (not the problem) and serves to make matters worse by increasing litigation. Of
course, since when has President Clinton shied away from the legal system anyway?
Speaking of proposals, the next article provides a set of guidelines
for using multirater or 360-degree feedback for decision-making purposes in organizations.
Dave Bracken and Carol Timmreck have put together a well-conceived document
that covers an entire spectrum of issues and concerns in this somewhat dicey yet
increasingly prevalent area of I-O practice (and research).
Last but not least, SIOP historian Laura Koppes describes the
life and times of the individuals for whom the SIOP awards were named. I think some people
may be surprised by the number of current (and well known) professionals touched by these
Moving right along to our regularly scheduled program, Mike Harris of
Practice Network starts off by tackling the role of the Internet in I-O psychology.
Although online surveys may be one of the current uses of the net and Mike does a nice job
covering some of the key issues here, I'm more interested in hearing stories about this
I.O.Syke character including whether or not he/she can out perform HAL.
This edition of TIP-TOPics marks the end for Dawn Riddle and Lori
Foster (at least in this capacitysee their column for more details as their
careers are indeed evolving). Thanks to both of them for their hard work over the years,
keeping us honest and current with respect to graduate student issues. After a walk down
memory lane, they discuss the importance of creating a professional personasomething
that I should probably pay more attention to myself.
Next, Janine Waclawski provides us with a Real World look at
consulting jargon and its potential impact on the field. After a brief visit with the
thought police, and some comments from John Michela and Dean Stamoulis, she
provides a wholesome meal of buzzword salad, and corporate slander from the pages of Fortune
magazineto think we actually use some of these terms on a day-to-day basis. The best
part, though, comes when she introduces her own list of SIOPisms. What people will come up
with during the SIOP social hour!
This issue's International Forum by Dirk Steiner visits first
with Deanne Heinisch and Katherine Holt for a report on a country liaison
project for SIOP's International Affairs Committee. Next, Beryl Hesketh introduces
I-O in Australia, and Alvaro Tamayo does the same for I-O
practice and research in Brazil.
Turning to the world of training evaluation, Steven Rogelberg's Informed Decision
column introduces us to Tanya Andrews and Brian Crewe who, through a series of
interviews with practitioners, examine the current state of the industry in this area.
Given that they conclude that most organizations use "smile scales" (or
reactions measures) following a training effort rather than hard results criteria,
please feel free to read their column, evaluate it, and let them know exactly what you
think. In all honesty and seriousness, the issues raised are very important for
practitioners and for the field in general. The verbatim comments are particularly
interesting (and telling).
Charmine Hrtel finishes our columnist contributions with a
summary of findings from three different research studies that literally span the globe,
on performance management and evaluation practices. Work-family issues again break the
surface here with respect to HR policies in Australia.
News and Reports
This issue's news and reports start with an introduction and overview
to SIOP's new Pro Bono initiative by Ann Marie Ryan. Next, Eduardo Salas provides
us with a vision and a call for proposals for the popular Professional Practice Book
Series. Leona Aiken, Division 5 President, gives us an overview of the signs of life and
trends in the field of quantitative measurement (a division of APA to which a number of
SIOP members also belong).
Moving to our web-based entrepreneurial portion of this issue, James
Kuthy offers an introduction to his newly created Center for Organizational and
Personnel Psychology located on the web at www.copp-psychology.org
dedicated to law enforcement organizational and personnel issues, and Michael
Fetzer provides a little bit of history regarding the I-O Psychology Forums that he
has developed for informal online exchanges about a variety of I-O and related subjects at
All I can say here is that I am just amazed at what's on the web these days, and it's only
going to get more interesting as time goes on.
Next, Heather Roberts Fox of the APA Science Directorate
provides us with a report on two separate Supreme Court-related ADA cases as well as an
update on several government reports that may be of interest to SIOP members.
And finally, Murray Barrick finishes the issue with a listing of
the highlights of the Division 14 (SIOP) program for the 1999 American Psychological
Association Convention to be held this August in Boston. He's done an excellent job of
pulling together a number of interesting sessions and posters from SIOP members, and I
would certainly encourage people to attend. While the APA convention is not exactly like a
SIOP conference, it does have its moments.
Lest anyone forget, as always, we close this issue with the latest
IOTAS and David Pollack's helpful list of upcoming conferences for next year, along
with the usual assortment of calls, announcements, and job postings that you have come to
expect from TIP. Don't forget to send your missives, comments, suggestions, and
feedback to Allanhc96@aol.com. (or directly to any
of our editorial board members if you prefer). I look forward to hearing from you and
seeing you this April in Atlanta!
Church, A. H., Boehm, V. R., & Gellerman, W. (1994). From both sides now: Ethical
dilemmas in I-O Psychology. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 31(4),
Church, A. H., & Waclawski, J. (1998). The vendor mind-set: The devolution from
organizational consultant to street peddler. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice
& Research, 5(2), 87_100.
Daily, C. (1996). Is the customer always right? Academy of Management Executive,
Davidow, W. H., & Uttal, B. (1990). Total customer service: The ultimate weapon.
New York: Harper & Row.
Harvey, J. B. (1988). The Abilene paradox and other meditations on management.
Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
Heskett, J. L., Jones, T. O., Loveman, G. W., Sasser, W. E., & Schlesinger, L. A.
(1994). Putting the service-profit chain to work. Harvard Business Review, 72(2),
Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations. (2nd
ed.). New York: John Wiley.
Rosenbluth, H. F, & Peters, D. M. (1992). The customer comes second and other
secrets of exceptional service. New York: William Morrow & Company.
Wallace, J. B. (1999). The case for the student as customer. Quality Progress, 32(2),
Manuscripts, news items or other submissions to TIP
should be sent to:
W. Warner Burke and Associates, Inc.
201 Wolfs Lane
Pelham, NY 10803-1815
Phone: (914) 738-0080
Fax: (914) 738-1059
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