Customer Assurance vs Mission Assurance

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BLUF – Continuously driving towards Mission PARTNER Assurance in a professional manner is operating within #DBAA protocol.

The following is a conversation I had over e-mail with another officer in relation to our cyber community’s role towards Customer Service vs Mission Assurance. To protect the innocent, no names will be mentioned/revealed in this conversation. I do believe the argument is professionally filtered through emotional frustration. There are irrelevant parts of the conversation that were removed, yet the remaining version below offers a view that many of us have with ourselves and each other.

The shot over the bough:

“My problem statement is simply that when the Air Force, and the communications community in general, started satisfying customer assurance, we lost focus on mission assurance.  By the definition, mission assurance is the process to ‘identify and mitigate deficiencies threatening mission success.’  Whereas customer assurance, or Customer Service Assurance as it is often titled in industry, is the means of ‘a communications service provider to ensure network and user device quality is consistent with client expectations.’

By losing our focus and driving towards a customer satisfaction mindset, we have unconsciously fostered what has become the prevalent atmosphere and often ridiculed understanding that ‘everything is a priority.’  Furthermore, our community has allowed our mission and pride to become further saturated by defining our contribution to the base as simply being a ‘service provider.’ Key word service being ofttimes accepted as ‘supplying a public resource or amenity.’  To begin to work towards my problem resolution, I must first ask a question: When did comm become a commodity, or stated simply, Why is comm a military service?  In the private sector the answer is easily as it firmly ties hand-in-hand with a respective equal level of financial gain.  But does the customer service mindset equally tie into a military service support function, or is a shift in perspective required.  And no, EITaaS is not factored into my argument as it conceivably a distant goal.

Furthermore, while never spoken outright, the mantra that the “customer is never wrong” has been oft alluded to over the last year by leadership.  I am fervently against this outlook as it boldly declares that we are willing to side with ignorance and petulance over our own Airman.  Discounting my aforementioned thoughts derived towards getting away from ICE, I do still believe that excellent customer service should be a byproduct of our day-to-day interaction along with the capabilities deployed.  But how does one’s agreement with an unreasonable supported member lead to better service if we alienate our workforce.  Sometimes a facetious or cheeky response IS the right response.  To quote the CEO of Southwest’s response to one irate letter – “We will miss you.”  He knew this maxim is wrong.  And most of the industry agrees.  Even if it’s only the SNCO’s reviewing ICE comments, the mandated dishonest reply to appease the customer only alienates us.  We talk about these comments.  They get out.  And when they do a certain level of resentment goes out with them.  This is counter-productive and makes our own job satisfaction that much harder.  At the end of the day, why should you be satisfied to have finally accomplished same day ticket closures after suffering through 60 plus day queues, when the customer we have to tactfully respond back to rates us as having provided an awful timeliness of service.  You wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, and our Airman certainly won’t.  This mentality and prevalent attitude results in worse customer service.  If we put up with it, then it sends a clear message that they have to.  The best customer service you can hope for at that point is fake good service, or an inclination to be courteous on the surface alone.”

My response:

“If mission assurance deliberately includes the opinion of our mission partners from the beginning, satisfaction can be achieved and will probably earn the person more street cred for being sympathetic to the mission partner’s requests/desires. Making decisions w/o any regard for the mission partner’s request/desire doesn’t work the best in the team sport we call ‘work’.

I really don’t like using the word customer, which [name] points out as potentially already skewing an interaction out of our favor. That’s why I say mission partner, because partner means 50/50. An equal and professional relationship based on mutual respect.

I believe the expectations of our mission partners is that we treat each other in a professional matter. This means that even if the end answer is no, it also includes that we tried everything we can within our power to get to yes. That’s how you ‘finish your sentence.’ Thinking back on [our command chief’s] comments on the difference on being a good Airmen at our trade and being a professional Airmen, no one is going to be in a position to out-tech our position on a situation. I wouldn’t question a maintenance Sq/CC on his job, nor do I expect them to question me on mine. But this only really works if we remain a professional at our core. Mission assurance has always been the primary goal for me, with customer satisfaction second…but both can be achieved if we spend our energy in time in the right manner.

Customer satisfaction isn’t listed anywhere in my leadership philosophy, CyOD, or any of lines of effort…but #DBAA is woven throughout. Because you can’t be an @sshole if you are always professional. I’ve also never cared about 99.9999% uptime or any measurement of the sort, and I care/don’t care about timely ICE replies (I’m honestly ok if we don’t answer in ❤ days…depending on what our response is). I care more about being responsive, articulating the truth of what is the current situation, working within 100% of our abilities and pushing AFCYBER with us, and communicating often to manage expectations. If we maintain that level of professionalism, we could be operating at 50% and leadership would be satisfied. They would still be frustrated at the situation, but they would be satisfied with our efforts as a good teammate. We need to lead our Airmen to derive internal satisfaction both within ourselves and with each other, not be reliant on external validation. Even though we work in an ICE environment which drives a response to negative experiences, if we have professionalism embedded in our unit’s culture, both mission assurance and mission partner satisfaction can be achieved simultaneously.

So I’m all for moving away from the ‘customer service’ and driving towards mission assurance. Better yet, mission PARTNER assurance, because like it or not, the Air Force is a team sport.”

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