This post is little more than the illegitimate mutant offspring of two of my other posts – Great Expectations and Epic Fail. Nevertheless, I find it cathartic to grumble about the systems-orientated screw-ups that continually aggravate me. Today’s musings surround the bizarre barriers that some organisations put in place in an apparent attempt to keep customers or service users as far away as possible from anyone who can help. They may as well just randomly jab at you with a pitchfork – at least that would be better than the methods of slow torture currently employed.
Regular readers of my blog will be aware that last November I had an unfortunate prang in my car. Now I appreciate that insurance claims are not usually a five minute job to resolve, but perhaps if my insurance company were to approach the challenge somewhat differently, customers like me wouldn’t be routinely left in the dark. You see, having not had an update on the progress of my claim since well before Christmas, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to contact the insurance company (i.e. failure demand) to try and find out what was happening. What a mistake that was.
After negotiating the usual labyrinthine phone menu (I love that phrase – I did tell you I’d recycled some of my previous ramblings), I selected the one-size-fits-all option that didn’t fit my query least well, then waited on hold for a while. This time I was prepared for Bruno Mars to be inflicted upon my ears, so drowned him out with a bit of New Order whilst I waited.
Eventually, I got through to a chap in the inevitable call centre, who did his best to help, but could only tell me that there had been no update on their system since 10th December. He explained that someone on a different team was dealing with my case (who wasn’t on duty), meaning he had no personal knowledge of the matter that he could impart. I completely understood his predicament, so asked if he could pass me that person’s contact details, thereby enabling me to speak directly to them when next on duty.
Then their system kicked in…
The poor chap told me that he was not allowed to give customers the email addresses of the case workers who actually deal with the claims, and that if he did so, he would breach company policy and would be in trouble with his team leader. He seemed to understand that it made sense to cut out the middleman, but was limited to taking and passing on messages within a system design that keeps customers away from the people who can help. Not his fault of course – he’s only responsible for that 6% of system performance that Deming talked about.
To really understand how this costly and dysfunctional system design actually works against the aims it was apparently created to achieve, let’s break it down point-by-point and consider some solutions…
You might notice a recurrent theme. In fact, if they got Point 1 right, it would prevent the other stuff from happening at all.
Why do organisations do this to us / themselves? To me, it seems to be based on the flawed assumption that to break the work up into chunks and allocate different bits to different people, it’s cheaper. You automate stuff (e.g. phone menus, voice recognition systems, mazes that lead you up dead-ends into recorded messages before cutting you off), perhaps even discourage customers from bothering you at all by insisting on a preference for web-based interaction, or through cunningly hiding contact details in some darkened corner of your website.
If this fails and someone breaks through, attempting to speak to a human being who might be able to help, then the next line of defence is the ubiquitous call centre. It’s staffed full of people who usually want to help, but who are constrained by more menus, prompt cards, Customer Relationship Management systems (CRM), rigid policies and so on. These guys may be cheaper to employ, but the poor souls are often reduced to acting as little more than a message-passing stage in the process. Suddenly, this option is not so cheap.
This type of system design introduces unnecessary handovers and leads to a fragmented and inefficient operating model, loss of information, delays, bottlenecks, higher costs and a worse service to the customer or service user. Pah!
And don’t even get me started on the public sector equivalent of this abomination. Colleagues from around the country have described to me the angst associated with operating models that rely on a single ‘gateway’ into departments such as Human resources, IT, or Occupational Health. Whereas previously they would just speak directly with the relevant person, now they endure what are essentially ‘message-passing hubs’, which are excellent at generating reference numbers, before leaving callers to wait for a response at some point in the future from the person they really wanted to speak to. And of course the people who work there aren’t bad people, either. Just like the insurance company chap, they want to help, but are unable to do so. It’s the system again, keeping you away from the expert.
For those who argue that such ‘hubs’ reduce costs, consider this – if the operator can’t assist the caller then the query has to be passed to the expert anyway. That’s two people you have to pay. The expert is still required – why introduce this additional layer of operators and cost?
Oh, and these are internal processes that must be followed when you want to talk to someone within your own organisation! What chance have the public got?