Ask most anyone in publishing, photography or computer graphics which one company has the poorest customer service and they will likely answer with a word formerly associated with sun-dried bricks.
My relationship with Adobe goes back to 1985 when it bought Aldus Corporation, which knew the importance of keeping its customers happy. The newly amalgamated company changed course and now shows little interest in anything that doesn't immediately benefit its bottom line. When I call for service these days I begin by reading the company's mission statement to each and every person I speak with before explaining my problem.
The RCMP has talked a lot about "change," "confidence" and "trust" over the past seven years or so but little has changed. I do not yet place it as low as Adobe Corporation but it is trending strongly in that direction.
When top management feels comfortable with itself, it begins to forget the big picture. Not only does it neglect the customer base, ala Adobe, it neglects its only conduit with that customer base – its employees.
Blue Line has become somewhat of a lightning rod for disillusioned and disgruntled RCMP members through our multiple points of contact. Over the years we have even shared many of these complaints with the Commissioners office (names withheld, of course). The vast majority of the complaints we hear and read about seem to focus on issues long recognized by RCMP senior staff.
None of this is news to the rest of the country. Issues of concern abound in books, studies, research and newspapers. Commentators, documentaries and media diarists have repeatedly highlighted the same problems within the RCMP, yet senior staff and their political masters stubbornly cling to century old management styles – styles which are becoming increasingly more difficult to sustain or justify.
This old dowager has to realize that its most important asset is its people. How does one explain the trickle-down effect of negative management and processes? Even if all the complaints are baseless or can be explained away as some transitory freak of nature, unhappy officers lead to a negative public image that ultimately affects the bottom line... and in more ways than financial.
The bad publicity and fallout from an array of incidents has reduced the number of recruits and increased interest from the community base in alternative methods of policing. It is difficult to deny when a recent recruit class had just 17 members and it required a supreme effort for the RCMP to retain contracts in at least six of the eight provinces it currently polices. It is difficult to deny when every effort by front-line members to gain bargaining rights, which every other police officer in this country already has, is fought to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Upper management has taken for granted the talent pool it possess in this era of highly educated individuals. Old management styles of keeping them in line are not going to work in this era of global communications and multiple job opportunities. A simple "no" in today's workplace will be promptly met with a "why not?" – if not at the highly charged training facility then most certainly in the field, where strict discipline and parade manoeuvres must give way to quick thinking individuality.
In 2008, around the time when the RCMP Reform Implementation Council was formulating its "Third Report," a young man named Dave Carroll was flying from Halifax to Omaha, with a transfer at Chicago. He was horrified to see Chicago baggage handlers toss his guitar around the tarmac. It was badly broken and Carroll launched a complaint with United Airlines. After almost a year of consistent negative responses he wrote a song about his experience and posted it on the Internet.
"United Breaks Guitars" was an instant and monumental success. In less than three days it had more than four million views, which soared to more than 10 million in six months. Currently more than 23 million people have heard the song on the Internet alone and countless millions more through extensive news coverage.
Carroll went on the speaking circuit (he has yet to stop) to explain the story and its effect. When asked to explain how a $1,200 claim managed to cost it over $10 million and stock losses of some $130 million, United Airlines' only answer was that its policy states damage claims must be made within 24 hours – and Carroll's was late.
A whole new world has evolved since the first Mounties trudged across the prairies on their horses 140 years ago. Upper management should be thinking about how many sharp-minded Dave Carrolls are lurking among its 20,000 members. Let's hope the RCMPs current trudging style will not create its very own swan song.
And if you want to hear a great song, search for "United Breaks Guitars" on YouTube!