The Customer Experience Series: Beware the Dog & Pony Shows

Let’s recap a few of the things we’ve agreed to so far in this series: that is, that good customer service is not about solving issues, it’s about not having issues in the first place. Furthermore, if we can provide good customer service, this leads to higher customer retention, a willingness for people to spend more money with us, and our service doesn’t even have to be great – just good.

“Just good? But, Steve, we’re great!” You say, “I know, I’m the CEO.”

I hate break it to you, but if you’re the CEO, owner, regional vice president or any position in between, you are likely clueless about the actual experience your customers enjoy when dealing with your frontline teams. No offense, but for most businesses I work with, the leadership is often oblivious about the customer experience.

The reason for this is that everything you see is filtered; everything you see is distorted; everything is presented to you via a dog and pony show.

Beware the Dog & Pony Shows

Serving on Guam in the U. S. Marine Corps, we perfected the dog and pony show. Basically, for eleven and a half months out of the year it was business as usual. Then, two weeks before some General was scheduled to arrive, we’d work bell to bell ironing, cleaning, scrubbing, repairing and painting anything and everything.

The General would arrive; inspect the barracks and the troops for about ten minutes; meet with the Captain and then he was off to the next barracks on his list. He was treated to a dog and pony show; and whether he was aware of it or not, Company C Marine Support Battalion earned it’s checkmark as being “squared away.”

This is what happens to most CEOs today. Only for you, it happens every day, not just once a year.

In business, the dog and pony show leaders get includes lots of filtered or even falsified reporting; and the only customer messaging they receive is what their team thinks they want to hear. Additionally, just like that Marine Corps General, because you are likely making preannounced visits to your various locations, you’re giving everyone a chance to always be on their best behavior.

If you enjoy having someone filter your view of your company and your customers, then by all means, keep everything as it is. However, if you’d rather see everything exactly as your customers see it, then I suggest you pull the plug on the dog and pony shows by changing just a few details in your routine:

  1. Stop making pre-announced visits to the frontlines.
  2. Show up from all angles: as the boss, as a customer and as a disinterested bystander (a sort of “fly on the wall”).
  3. Ask only open-ended questions of your frontline teams; and strive to ask these questions when their direct supervisors aren’t around.

Interestingly, the real benefit of this behavior is not that you get to see the unvarnished truth, but that your teams will be on their best behavior every day, including the eleven and a half months between visits.

Next up in the series: Show Me” Leadership.

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: Why Does Good Customer Service Matter?)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at