On ‘customer service’ seminars, managers are encouraged to think of their organisation as an upside-down triangle. Instead of it being a hierarchy (like a pyramid), it is shown to be supporting all those people who spend their time with customers. They see the logic of this and say that it’s a good idea, but too few realise just what action must be taken.

It is not enough to profess support for the people who serve the customer, managers have to design their systems such that support is actually given.

To design a system for service means knowing the type and frequency of customer demands. It means knowing what front-line staff need to fulfil those demands (in a way which suits customers). It means giving front-line staff the means to control and improve their own work processes; it means changing the role of first-level management from ‘controlling’ or managing people to learning from and managing processes. It means ensuring all measurement systems are facilitating learning and improvement and not causing sub-optimisation. Most of all it means providing leadership.