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How do you rate your customer service?

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- How would your customers rate your service? I believe the success of any organization should be measured by its willingness and ability to meet its customer's expectations. Frequently, we judge our performance against checklists developed from regulations or higher headquarters' mandates. We need to focus our attention on what the customers needs in order to perform their missions.

To align our organizational efforts with customer requirements, we have to develop leaders, at all levels that can see beyond their area of responsibility. All too often, people in leadership positions shy away from making decisions that will benefit their customers, because it might cause more work for their organization. They avoid providing better service because they may be perceived as "selling their people out," or always "taking the other guy's side." This leadership style forces us to make decisions in a vacuum and lessens our ability to work together as a cohesive and effective group. In order to change this mentality, we need to develop the ability to see the "big picture" and reward those who demonstrate customer-focused decision making.

Leaders, from commanders down through section chiefs and NCOICs, should instill this same customer commitment in everyone in their organization, and eliminate the question, "what's in it for me?" Instead, they need to build a customer-focused organizational culture that strives to meet their customers' expectations to actively listening to what they need and why it's important to them. By fully understanding these expectations, leaders can better align their resources to satisfy these needs and eliminate programs that their customers do not see as important.

Changing the decision-making focus throughout the wing toward internal and external customer requirements is essential to meeting our mission. We have to challenge regulations and guidance that hinder our ability to provide the best service possible. Clearly, we need to satisfy the public law and regulatory requirements, but we should work with the people we support to get rid of non-value added restrictions.

Effective leaders remove the word "can't" from their organizational culture and avoid brushing off a new idea or customer suggestion by arguing "we've always done it this way." They try to eliminate these self-limiting behaviors in order to achieve continuous improvement and heighten unit pride.

How often do we, as supervisors, ask our people or other organizations to do things that we wouldn't be willing to do ourselves? Do we expect our personnel to be fit, trained, and ready to meet world-wide mission requirements, for example, when we make unhealthy lifestyle choices?

Setting a good example is the first step to achieving buy-in throughout the organization. When subordinates see their bosses practice what they preach, they are far more likely to support their organization's values. To be effective in today's Air Force, we can no longer hide behind our rank or position. We must demonstrate our own commitment to the mission before we can ask our people to do the same.