Rise of the Zombie Organisation?

Zombie handsI’m not usually a fan of seasonal posts, so apologies to anyone else who shares my prejudice as I talk about zombie organisations in the run up to Halloween. I’ve had a few bad customer experiences recently and now I can’t help but wonder if there is an underlying trend…the rise of the zombie organisation?


What prompted me to reflect more on my experiences was that all shared a number of common characteristics, despite the organisations being very different in terms of industry and reputation, and indeed how the issue was resolved.


Let’s start by looking at the three experiences:

1. I had a problem with my Broadband provided by a major telecom company and every time I called the support line we went through the same conversations It would start with an eternity waiting in a queue and then having to go through the same conversation as  the agent attempted to work through a script that by call six I knew much better than him. At the end of the calls which were usually at least an hour in length, I inevitably came away with no resolution of my issue and feeling although someone had been sucking the life force from me.


2. In this case I posted a review on the site of a major retailer as they had sent me some shoes that were not as described on the  website (i.e brown and cream rather than black and white). I then received an email informing me that my review had been rejected as it did not comply with their guidelines and that I should read the guidelines and resubmit. There was no indication of what was unacceptable about my review or how it was not compliant.


3. My business is a customer of a major UK bank and I set up a payment that had to be processed before the end of the tax year. The bank’s fraud detection system identified it as a potential risk: an agent called me, didn’t get an answer, left no message, and promptly cancelled the payment and sent me a letter to inform me. The letter of course arrived after the tax year end date.


I’ve been reflecting on those experiences which all showed little awareness of the impact on the customer; and that prompted me to think about how the organisations seemed to be behaving like mindless zombies. This morning I Googled the definition of zombie and  found that Wikipedia defines a zombie as “a hypnotised person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli”. My initial experience in the three situations described above left me feeling that I was indeed dealing with zombie organisations.


What made it feel that way was the failure to look at the situation through my eyes or to show any empathy for how I might be feeling. My sense was that the individuals were being transformed into process zombies who’s only focus was adherence to the process and completion of another task. Could it be that the pursuit of efficiency and cost reduction is creating a customer service culture devoid of  humanity and empathy? And, at what cost to the individuals in the organisation or its customers?


The 2nd and 3rd experiences were resolved in a satisfactory way, and in both cases that involved providing me with an explanation of what had happened, and apologising for how the action taken had impacted me. In the 2nd case it was possible for the organisation to correct the error that had been made in rejecting my review, while in the 3rd case the bank offered some compensation. Not surprisingly, the apology and explanation were what really mattered to me as a customer.


More interesting is how I came to be dealing with someone who could show some initiative and empathy. In the web review situation, it finally took someone on the reception desk to put me through to the Chairman’s office where I spoke to Mike who took ownership and could see the ridiculous nature of the email message I’d been sent. In the bank situation, I was so incensed, I took to Twitter, and this prompted someone to contact me. Again, Sorcha who took ownership demonstrated an understanding of how poorly the situation had been handled and how the process had simply failed me as a customer.


We may choose to conclude that the zombies have not fully taken over organisations 2 and 3. Organisation 1 may be a different matter, despite trying every way of contacting them, I’ve been unable to find signs of any remaining core of humanity here. It would seem that zombies are running the show with consciousness and self-awareness truly eliminated. As a customer, I’m making a choice and running away from the zombies!


As a leader, what are you doing to ensure that the zombies aren’t taking over your organisation and driving your customers to flee? Do you truly know what it feels like to be a customer of your organisation?


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