TBA PicWhen we hear of recalls in the automotive industry, we know their own sales and customer service departments knew about the problems years in advance. Today, many companies say they put the customer on top. But how can they if they put sales and customer service on the bottom? These are the only folks who talk directly to the customers each and every day.

Too many companies rely on the old, conventional pyramid structure with the president and CEO on top, next the executive vice presidents, then the divisions, departments, teams and groups. Maybe this is a result of old-school thinking from the supply-sided industrial revolution. First, start with a crop or raw materials. Second, develop an “efficient” division of labor to produce a product. Third, charge the marketing department to create a brand with a logo, catchphrase, advertising materials, and so on. Next, tell the sales department to sell it and the customer service department to resolve any complaints. Sound familiar?

If they want to know how the customer feels about the product, some companies have the marketing department do a focus study, or the finance department run some numbers. Never mind that the focus study questions can influence the answers and mask the truth; or that the financial study is based on the assumption that sales will continue at the existing rate or even expand.

What about the customer intel that is being collected daily by sales and customer service departments from actual customers? Well, it may just stay within those departments, if it is viewed by top-down organizations as a threat to their upper-level status. After all, they are “above” sales and customer service in the company structure, so they should already know what the customer wants, right? And besides, the sales people are not in the office much, and the customer service department is just ‘complaint resolution’.

Marketing departments are quick to take a bow when sales are up, as if they actually made the sales themselves. If sales are down, well then it’s the sales department’s fault. This can result in a hubris that leads marketing to believe they know more about what the customer wants than the sales department. In fact, many companies who face revenue problems let their sales people go first! Go figure.

Sales and customer service departments know about product issues long before marketing, production or finance. They may even bring them to the attention of top management. But when the other departments are brought in, fixing the problem is weighed against risk, cost, labor, convenience, and perceived customer tolerance. Customer service and satisfaction may be sacrificed.

The pyramid structure may work well for production, but it can actually be counterproductive to your brand. Why? Because it is by nature a top-down design and gives more status to production, finance, and marketing than it does to sales and customer service. And therein lies the big danger to brand relevance and survival.