The leader of a call centre had conducted a SERVQUAL analysis that showed the service lacked empathy, so she had invited empathy trainers to bid for providing training. She had also seen how Vanguard had been successful elsewhere so invited us to bid too.

Having listened to the leader explain the need, I went out to look at the work. I sat with Janice. I noticed that Janice had to find a script for each call. I learned later there were 365 of them. Janice had to deal with calls in three minutes. She also had to follow procedures with many calls and had to find the right document each time. And Janice was regularly inspected via a six-page list of things her first-level manager would pay attention to for every call.

In a couple of hours with Janice I could also see that lots of the calls were failure demand. Service clearly wasn’t exemplary.

I asked Janice to describe the kinds of calls she got a lot of and chose what in my mind was a high-frequency value demand and asked her to show me how she dealt with it. Janice turned round and said: ‘I’ve not been trained to do those’.

I explained to the leader she didn’t have an empathy problem, she had a system problem. She thought I was mad, but eventually she got it.