I've come to the conclusion after another frustrating round of Christmas shopping that what's wrong with most firms is that everyone who can make a decision is completely insulated from the customer.
In a smaller firm, most people can't help but interact with a customer at some point in the process. Whether that's in a sales mode, a delivery mode or a service mode, at some point everyone interacts with a customer and understands their needs, likes and frustrations. I recognize the efficiency and scale that large firms create, but with that size comes the reality that many people within most larger firms today NEVER interact with a customer, so their incentive to do things that make sense for a customer is very limited. Of the people who do interact with a customer, those folks are interested primarily in selling a product or service, or providing what limited customer service exists.
As someone who has been active in sales, I can tell you that most people who sell products or services for a living - professional sales people - are interested in your success and happiness with a product. However, they have exceptionally little say into how a product or service is developed and delivered. And of the other folks who interact with customers - primarily customer service - they are compensated by how many customers they service, not based on your satisfaction. So the people you interact with have little power to change anything, and those you cannot interact with are so insulated from customers that they have little incentive to change.
Why do you think a firm that creates crappy quality products can do so year after year? Do you think GM would have had poor quality automobiles if the people on the shop floor had been required to meet with customers and explain the problems or fix the automobiles? Do you think that Enron would have been able to pull the financial shenanigans they did if there had been a more consistent, credulous investigation and explanation of what was happening? In many corporations there are large market research and customer focus group teams who try to ascertain what customers need and want. This is not to say they don't add valuable insights, but executives, product planners, developers and other internal team members should go out and interact with customers and prospects for themselves on a regular, recurring basis. What's wrong with so many products and services today is that so few people ever interact with a customer that the "customer" takes on a mythical quality, seen as frequently and perhaps as credible as a unicorn.
When presidential candidates go out on "listening" tours we congratulate them, yet we don't seem to expect our executives to meet and interact with customers on a regular basis. This separation from and lack of interaction with customers builds an organization where adherence to the rules of the organization and bureaucracy is more important than satisfying a consumer's needs. Need proof? Look at customer satisfaction ratings in industries like health insurance. Have you ever met a person from your health insurer? While I realize they are in the business of providing health insurance through affiliated doctors, wouldn't it be valuable to meet with consumers or at least have some interaction with individual consumers on a regular basis?
What's happened is that no one is accountable to the customer. The folks you can interact with - sales and customer support - don't have much power or influence, and the people who can change the way things work can't be reached. So there's no incentive to make things work more effectively for a customer and most people aren't compensated on customer satisfaction.
We need to reconsider how organizations are structured. If we believe that the era of mass customization is upon us, and everyone can "have it their way", then we need to have a much better understanding and interaction with the customer. Right now, the organizational structures are barriers or inhibitors to customer interaction at all levels of an organization.