The “tyranny of the urgent” is a phrase that is commonly used when working in a service environment. The phrase reminds people that “urgent” requests often take priority over “important” requests. Service managers often find themselves in the role of “firefighting”—putting out “the fires” of customer complaints. Before the manager realizes it, the firefighting consumes all of his time. The executives will note what a wonderful job the service manager is doing by managing customer complaints.
In this situation the only customers whose voices are heard are those who are complaining. The large and small customers who were not complaining are overlooked. When the urgent requests consume most or all of the service manager’s time, there is little time remaining to consider what is not urgent.
In his book Exit, Voice and Loyalty, Albert Hirschman argues that unsatisfactory conditions (such as service problems) may lead customers to (1) to exit or leave the company without trying to resolve an issue, or (2) speak up and try to remedy the situation. The “nice” customer will exit without telling you why and never return. A “good” customer, on the other hand, is willing to speak up and tell you what is wrong and is willing to work with you to resolve an issue. A “good” customer is really your best consultant because he will tell you exactly what is wrong.
It is often said that the urgent requests are like customers pounding on the chest of the service providers and managers while the other customers who do not require immediate assistance or attention are ignored. The fact is that customers’ lack of urgency requests may actually have more important information to share with the company. Many companies spend too much time listening to the urgent customers while ignoring other customers.
Urgent needs of some customers inhibit service managers’ time to anticipate, plan and develop future service requirements. Too many managers spend most of their time in a reactive mode. To get beyond the “tyranny of the urgent,” companies, especially service organizations, need to fundamentally change the way in which they listen to customers.
From a strategic perspective, a balance is needed between urgent problems and important problems. The urgent solutions generate “at-a-boys” for the service personnel while the non-urgent solutions pave the way for long-term success. A simple first step to managing the “tyranny of the urgent” is to set aside a specific amount of time each week or each month to solve the problems of how to increase productivity, review service skills, parts inventory, and technology.
The bottom line is to focus on the needs of all your customers. There are three tactics that will provide the first steps to leave the “tyranny of the urgent”.
Step one: Conduct interviews with customers who have left your company.
Step two: Engage those customer segments that are not being addressed by those customers with urgent needs.
Step three: Understand why customers left you in the past.
Be curious! You may discover/uncover challenges and opportunities you never realize existed.