I consider myself unemployed due to my minuscule income (although I call myself self-employed, which sounds much better). However, while I don’t make much money I do serve as the official face of organisations.
I have two professional-domain* company emails set up on my MacMail account plus my personal gmail account, which I use as a sole trader/freelancer. So when I send emails, I first select my professional identity in MacMail’s ‘from’ drop-down menu depending on which company I represent.
To be a professional face
An organisation is an impersonal social unity that communicates and has responsibilities. It is an imaginary construct supported by tangible ‘evidence’ such as perceived staff, assets, website, logo, communication infrastructure and a location (a PO box works but is not as convincing as a real building).
The organisation is personalised by any person who communicates on its behalf; for example sends emails via the website domain. The person wears the organisation’s identity as a hat, metaphorically, and is the organisation in the eyes of customers and people in other organisations.
The personalisation enables others to build a trusting relationship with the organisation as if it was a person. It enables them to befriend it and to hate it if it lets them down.
Anyone who has ever worked in a front-line role knows how critical it is to wear an organisational hat in good style, and how bad it is to take it off when things go awry. To say ‘I don’t know… I can’t help… I didn’t do it, it was the organisation/some other staff… It has nothing to do with me!’ ruins the illusion of being the organisation. The company degrades into an impersonal, inhumane machine when that happens.
That is why it is so vital that staff is willing, and empowered, to take ownership of problems as they arise.
The Director hat
I like hat ownership, but it is strange. I co-own an inactive graphic design company where I am the copy-writer. Our website is still up because we wanted to keep the business symbolically alive until we can give it a new go.
When I get marketing calls and emails, administrative communication (bank, taxation office, web host…) and contractor proposals, I am addressed as Director. I hate phone calls but do my best to sound like a polite and professional business owner when I pick up the phone. I respond to emails in a coolish professional and director-like manner as if I want to make sure no one can ever sue us for anything.
Ironically, I also get job applications. I write polite rejections back where I explain that our company is currently not in a position to hire new personnel, but I’ll keep their details on record… and I do. I would love to give people work, but I don’t even have work enough for myself. It is just a hat.
The support@… hat
I wear my other hat when I reply to support@ emails from the online store I represent. I set the online store up earlier this year for the owner, Max, who imports sports accessories and gadgets from Asia. I am supposed to run it for a commission, but there haven’t been any sales yet.
In the eyes of the customers, I work in the customer service department of the organisation. The customers may not imagine what the customer service department really looks like:
and that is fine. Yesterday I received below email** from a customer:
I want to thank you so much for having this problem resolved. I finally received the item Yesterday and am very happy. Although the experience wasn’t perfect, I will still recommend your business as long as I know there is someone like you to get things done. Thank you again.
which brought closure to a successful service recovery…
Virtual service recovery
The customer, C, had purchased a sports bag in Max’s market shop in the city, which has nothing to do with me. Unfortunately, when he opened the box at home, an included accessory was missing. He complained to Max, and Max promised to send it ASAP. However, Max was busy travelling overseas, and it didn’t happen. Time passed, and C couldn’t get through to Max.
C then submitted the contact form on the website to complain to the customer service department. That is me, so I became aware of the issue.
I sincerely apologised for our mistake and promised to take care of it. I had a meeting with Max the next day, and cautiously raised the issue. I sensed that it was none of my business, but really, it is. I represent the mistake when I wear the company’s hat.
We talked about how an unresolved service failure can be extremely dangerous for an Internet business. The online store displays product reviews, which anyone can enter, and allows sharing via Facebook and Twitter. A disgruntled customer can let his frustrations out online. The bad Word of Mouth can spread through social networks and linger indefinitely on Search Result Pages to warn people against the online store. It can interfere with sales.
I got more emails from C complaining that he still had not heard from Max, and I kept apologising and politely chased Max. It was a bit awkward… like telling your boss what to do. Eventually, I told C that I would go to the ‘warehouse’ and send the thing myself if necessary, and I told Max I’d said so.
Finally, Max informed that he had just sent the thing + a bit extra calm to things down. Then I received the positive feedback email from C, and the case was closed.
A good service recovery can convert a disgruntled customer into a glowing ambassador; someone who feels a special connection with the company and relates to its staff. I hope that’s what happened here and am proud that I managed to turn a failure to success under my support@ hat.
*com.au domains require an Australian Business Number
**Names, details and phrases have been altered in this post to ensure anonymity