Are You Accountable to Your Customers? by Sam Silverstein

Accountable leadership cares less about the short-term bottom line…and more about the long-term relationship. 

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 A key test of accountability comes in the form of two tough questions:  

  • Can your customers count on you to act in their best interests? Do they know you’ve always “got their back”?  

  • Do they know you are accountable to fulfill a commitment to provide them with full value…and to give them all the information they need to make an informed decision?  

A recent PBS NewsHour story is making customers think twice about whether their most trusted providers are offering the right answers to those questions.  

Gretchen Liu, 78, went online and paid her insurance provider’s chosen supplier a copay of $285 for a 90-day supply of some medication she needed. The price seemed high, but her condition was serious, so she simply paid the bill and trusted that her insurance company was pointing her toward the best available price. Time passed, and Liu needed a refill of her medication before going on a trip. She headed to the pharmacy at Costco…where she learned that she could have gotten the very same medication there for only $40 if she had opted to pay for the same (generic!) drug out of pocket, instead of using the online copay arrangement provided by her insurance company! 

Let’s be frank. Something went very wrong here, something that needs to be noticed not just by online pharmacies and insurance companies, but by companies operating in all industries. When we don’t tell our customers how to make the very best choice, we let them down…and we don’t fulfill our accountability to them to look after their interests and deliver full value. 

There are two places where accountability needs to show up in this kind of situation. First, the online vendor for these medications should prominently inform customers when they can get a substantial price break by not using the copay option. The online pharmaceutical vendor, and by extension the insurance company, failed this test. 

Second, the pharmacists we visit in person should also make sure we get the best price possible. The Costco pharmacist passed this test. Guess which supplier Liu trusts more? Guess which she is more likely to recommend? 

One relationship with the customer—Costco’s—was based on accountability. The other wasn’t. Can you blame Liu—or any of us who need prescription drugs—if we start assuming that we need to watch out for our own interests, rather than trust our insurance company’s chosen suppliers? 

News flash: If you’re my insurance company, I’m your customer! That means you should be looking out for my best interests. 

That’s true for any company, of course, not just companies that sell insurance.  

If a company is more concerned with its immediate bottom line than it is with the customer’s best interests, that is a short-term decision, and a poor one. That company is maximizing a short-term profit in exchange for a long-term loss. When that company stops looking out for its customers, it might maximize its profits that month, that quarter, or maybe even that year—but there are going to be long-term problems down the line…and if the company ignores those problems for long enough, its survival will eventually be at stake! 

So: How committed is your organization to always do what’s best for the customer? How likely are you to tell a customer, “You know what? You can save some money and/or time if you do it this way instead of that way”? How committed are you and your team to giving customers all the information they should be able to expect from you? 

If you hesitated before answering any of those questions, consider that the problem you just uncovered begins with your company leadership’s commitment to employees.  

When leadership is only focused on the short-term bottom line and is not looking out for the best interests of customers, that sends a message to the employees in the organization that leaders probably aren’t looking out for their best interests, either! All too often, that message is part of a corporate death spiral—poor employee morale reinforces poor customer service, which reinforces poor employee morale, and on and on. This cycle is a hallmark of unaccountable leaders—not bad employees! Wherever there is a customer service issue, that points toward an accountability issue internally in the organization…usually at the very top.  

The flip side is also true. If the people in the organization know that the leader has their back and is personally accountable to uphold a commitment to help them achieve their full potential and be the very best they can be, then that leader is building a culture based on accountability and commitment—and those employees are going to be accountable to fulfilling a commitment to the customers to deliver full value, time after time after time. 

Rest assured: If you care about the long-term relationship more than the short-term bottom line, you will build a marketplace advantage based on accountability…and you will turn your customers into passionate advocates for your brand. 

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Sam Silverstein is dedicated to empowering people to live accountable lives, transform the way they do business, and create a more accountable world. He helps companies create an organizational culture that prioritizes and inspires accountability. His most recent book in the No More Excuses series, No Matter What: The 10 Commitments of Accountability, is available now from AmazonBarnes & NobleBooks-a-Million800-CEO-READ, and other fine retailers. You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamSilverstein, Facebook @SilversteinSam, Instagram @samsilverstein, and YouTube @samsilverstein.