The diseases started in the private sector

A reader wrote:

“Hi John, I couldn’t help noticing that the public sector has been getting quite a bashing in your recent newsletters and I thought this was rather unfair on the private sector.”

OK, so this newsletter is a private sector special issue(!)

The problems being introduced to the public sector in the name of improvement (sic) are evident in all badly run private sector companies. So herewith some current examples. If you are a public sector reader, see if you can spot which diseases you’ve already been given by the ministers.

Hello, how can I not help you?

The reader sent me, in his words, “some private sector bashing to even things up a little”. He wrote:

“My wife has a phone with O2, they offered her a new one with a camera and stuff. She took the new phone. She didn’t like it as much as her old one but she is so busy she could never find time to call them to tell them.

This week they called her to ask her what she thought of her new phone. She was very pleased they called. She told them she didn’t like it as much as her old phone and would like to change it. What did the happy, helpful O2 person say? You’ve guessed it, nothing! She was calling ‘to check you were happy with it, I can’t deal with queries’. Priceless.”

A classic example of managers damaging the customer experience by specifying the transaction; anything the customer wants that is beyond the specification is just not possible. A bit like the waiter who asks ‘is everything OK?’ as he walks away – expecting yes, not listening for anything else.

Imagine the knowable and unknowable costs. How can managers be so dumb? They don’t think about their system from the outside in. If only they knew the value of doing so.

They are all doing it

To ensure we don’t think it is just O2 that shows such incompetence, my reader gave me another:

“A friend of mine has a Vodafone mobile. She was approached by 3 and made an offer she couldn’t refuse. But she did refuse; she called Vodafone and told them, and asked them what they could offer her (yes brand loyalty, wow!). They said – we cannot do anything until your current contract runs out in 3 months time. Fantastic. So she called 3 and said she liked their offer but she still had 3 months on her current contract, and 3 said, don’t worry we’ll pay for that and buy you out of your contract. So she said yes.

And guess who called within a week of her swapping to 3? No prizes for guessing. Vodafone, wondering why she had left and what it would take to win back her business.

If you didn’t laugh you’d cry.”

In organisations like these they have ‘save teams’, people who try to win customers back. It would be better to know what causes them to go. And that comes back to what happens when customers transact with them.

The ‘Customer Experience Director’

I had to ring Barclaycard to make my new card work. The IVR (‘press one for… ’) dropped me out twice, made me wait listening to junk marketing, and so on, and as I waited my eye was drawn to the letter… it was signed ‘Customer Experience Director’. I thought I bet he knows very little about the customer experience.

So when I got to an agent (for I had to, or no card) I said I’d like to talk to him. She didn’t know who he was, I explained. Her supervisor told me I could not be put through. I complained. A manager called me back later. After three more calls I got his office and we made an appointment for us to speak.

I described my experiences to the Customer Experience Director. I warmed up with the immediate experience and he went on about software problems in the IVR and how I should be able to talk to him if I wanted to (oh really). But top of my ‘experience’ list was having my card disabled every time I go abroad. It has happened innumerable times over the last two years. He told me it cuts down fraud. I didn’t get the sense he knew by how much this particular (IT) rule achieved this end and I pointed out the unintended consequences (lousy customer experience, extra costs of calls, lost revenue). I told him the right answer is to change the IT rules (in truth the right answer is don’t have them but I knew he wouldn’t be ready for that). For example, I suggested, you could ensure every customer who has had this problem before will get a call rather than having the card turned off. He told me it wouldn’t work because this would mean setting up a new ‘out-bound’ telephone group and that brings management problems, keeping people busy enough … and I just knew there was no point in continuing for he thinks about the design and management of work in the wrong way.

So I went on to something simpler. Checking out of a hotel in the Middle East my card failed. When I got to the UK I called and got told I should be pleased as this was for my safety, before I left for the Middle East we had agreed to cancel one card because of suspected fraud (which did not turn out to be so), but Barclaycard had cancelled both my cards. The agent could not see that I should be unhappy. I complained. To cut a long story short they gave me £250 in compensation.

All the agent had to do was say ‘gosh, how shocking Mr Seddon, that must have been terrible for you. Now first things first, let’s solve your problem. Do you still need to pay the hotel?” And I would have been a very happy customer.

There was no justification for giving me £250. When you screw up the fastest way to solve a problem is also the cheapest, but you have to design for it.

The Customer Experience Director understood only part of that.

You are the BA representative

I want you to imagine you are the BA representative in Tobago. You know a teenage girl is due to arrive as you have already met the parents who arrived on an earlier date from a different destination and you may have noticed the parents were just a tad concerned about the teenager being met as she was travelling from the USA, which involves flight connections.

On the day she does not arrive. What would you do? The BA procedure is for the representative to send an e-mail saying there was a ‘no show’; head office may decide to tell you why, but the representative didn’t behave as though this was something that happened with any frequency.

What did the BA representative do? Nothing. Didn’t even follow the procedure, but maybe you wouldn’t if it never mattered.

My daughter had missed her connection in the Bahamas because of a delay out of New York. While she could have made another, no one would transfer her ticket. Instead she was sent to a hotel and told to get up for a taxi at 5am the next day for a 7-30 flight. Having done so she got to the airport to find the flight delayed until 10-30; then it was delayed until 14-30 and the talk was it may not fly and she may need to stay another night. Throughout the ordeal (unfamiliar and slightly scary surroundings, heat, lack of sleep and food) her main complaint was ‘no one cared about solving my problem’.

To avoid another night in the dingy hotel she bought her own ticket on another airline and completed the journey. The point is the organisation was not designed to solve problems; customers have to solve problems for themselves.

In practice the organisation design ensured higher immediate costs (hotels and transfers) and lousy service that can only translate into lost opportunity (the bigger cost).

For a laugh I told the BA rep to tell BA to pay my mobile phone bill, time on phone with daughter solving problem and providing support (his job). He did nothing. That, I guess, must be his job description. He doesn’t solve problems.

[And, by the way, Barclays turned off my card in Tobago!]

More dumb telecomms design

Another reader sent me this:

“I have a mobile phone contract with O2 that provides agreed minutes and texts in the cost. I was on holiday a while back and always use my mobile to ring home. It is expensive and outside normal contract charges.

Last week I had a very worrying text from O2 telling me that my bill was at a level that could mean barring future calls and to contact the customer service desk urgently. This was followed next morning by a letter. I thought I’d better act.

I rang their customer SERVICE (??) desk. Several robots and 7 options later, I finally found a (marginally helpful) humanoid agent, trained by a robot I think.

‘Why have you contacted me in this way’ I asked, ‘what is the problem?’ She explained that my monthly call charges had reached a sum (£50) that resulted in this frenetic systems activity – texts, letters, threats and if I reached £100 over the next two weeks my line would be barred until I paid the balance immediately by credit card.

My response – have my normal contract calls exceeded my limit? NO Has your system identified that the excess costs result from overseas roaming calls that are expensive? YES Do you realise that I already pay for my charges direct via Amex and you would get your payment automatically? YES Will you record that this conversation took place and the reasons for the unusually high charges so far? NO FACILITY So why have you wasted my time and yours? SILENCE

This ‘one fits all’ approach is really annoying. Had they take time to profile how I use my phone the situation could have avoided.

Funny old world!”

And Carphone Warehouse did exactly the same to me. These people must get together to decide how best to upset their customers.

As he points out (‘one size fits all), it is another example of a design problem. The IT rules create ‘negative’ transactions for customers and often the best customers, those who pay loads of money get the worst experiences.

Automated work constipation

I have never been a fan of ‘work flow automation’ (IT that scans and manages (sic) work). In short these systems create work. Once I joked with an executive that their system, called Automated Work Distribution (AWD) ought to have been called AWC – Automated Work Constipation. Only then was I told this had been the executive’s ‘baby’. Oh well…

A Vanguard practitioner in an organisation with automated work flow studied at the weekly productivity stats produced by the work flow system for one team. She found that out of 108hrs of work Admin Tasks took 49.16hrs, Moving between Q’s 38.09hrs and actually doing the work 21.58hrs.

As she said: “Great Eh!”

When she looked at individual performance data, someone called the ‘Business Expert’ was doing 4 times as much work as everyone else… “but it wasn’t actual work was moving things into the rights Q’s once the staff had clicked on work realised it wasn’t for them and passed it to the Bus Expert personal Q who then move into the right Q….phewh!”

And as she said: “all that and they still haven’t done the work. Conclusion …work flow productivity stats are as useless as a chocolate fireguard.”

Quite, they have nothing to do with productivity. Correction, managing with them damages productivity.

BSI to the rescue!

A reader writes:

“John, don’t know if you saw this article…

Consumers consider the quality of a product or service to be more important than the price they pay for it, yet dissatisfaction is still rife. Despite 52% of respondents to a recent British Standards Institute (BSI) survey suggesting that they wouldn’t think twice about paying more for a product or service with a quality mark, consumer frustration with service levels remains high across many sectors. Call centres are the worst, says BSI, with nearly half of those polled (46%) having personally experienced a poor quality of service. Banks and financial services fare relatively badly too, with one in five respondents (21%) stating that they aren’t happy with service levels there. Utilities firms (21%), mobile phone operators (20%) and retailers (19%) cope little better.

‘BSI is working closely with many of these sectors who are anxious to improve their standards to meet the expectations of their customers,’ explains BSI’s Mike Low, director of British standards.

Ah that’ll be ok then… not!”

Quite. As an example, BSI has cut a deal to inspect the Call Centre Association’s ‘best practice’ Standard. It ought to be called the ‘sweat shop’ standard, for it contains all the bad theory that led call centres to earn that sobriquet. Just as with ISO 9000, we can take accreditation to mean lousy service and, I don’t doubt, a long and tortuous complaints procedure.

The reason these service organisations are getting such a bad press is that their service design is so lousy, as I evidence here. BSI’s people know nothing about how to solve this problem; they just exacerbate it. BSI’s role is to specify and inspect standards. Their standards are based on opinion rather than knowledge, the fact of standards creates a culture of compliance rather than learning and the consequences are higher costs and poor quality service, the new British kite mark.


A happy and hopeful New Year

A reader wrote:

“Dear Newsletter,

I enjoy your newsletter a lot. It still provides hope to many.”

Hope is the feeling of desire for something and confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment. The first step is seeing things you previously couldn’t see. So I wish all my readers well in their exploration and dissemination of the lenses through which to see.

Every one of the private sector examples (above) would be solved if managers first learned how to study demand into their systems. Just one of Vanguard’s contributions to management knowledge (sorry about the plug).

All the diseases are consequences of command and control management thinking. One day these managers will learn there is a better way.

In the public sector we can be less confident that the architects of doom – the ministers –will be prepared to accept their accountability. More on this next month…. things are hotting up.

A happy and hopeful New Year to you all!