Bad Process. Bad Customer Service. Common Practice

Yesterday Bank of America put me through a very unpleasant but very common experience. Their ebanking center tried to pay my BofA card account out of a long-closed checking account. The payment was not made; they didn’t notify me of the problem; then I got a late notice and fee. Happens all too often – no big deal. But when I called to find out what happened and straighten things out, I reached a contact center just out of civilization’s reach. The agent tried persuading me I couldn’t enter my online account using the credentials I’ve used before, and I never could have. She was absolutely clueless. So I demanded a supervisor, got one, identified the problem, reversed the fee, etc., etc.

BofA’s problem is endemic. Companies hire raw, poorly trained front line agents who can’t resolve issues a high percentage of the time, either leaving customers angry or having to reroute them to a supervisor – and the companies believe they’re saving money. Any rudimentary process map showing frequencies and costs would blow their “belief” right out the window. Too bad Microsoft couldn’t patent this process, because then others wouldn’t be able to repeat it. But it’s like “monkey-see, monkey-do” out there (my apologies to any monkeys reading). Microsoft and other big call center players start this practice, and before long it’s standard fare.

Where are these companies’ brains? Guess I shouldn’t ask that in a PG blog.

Time for Tech Support to Eat its Own Dog Food (and that includes Google & Microsoft)

We users of tech support services are getting lots of pushback from technology support services of software sellers in particular but tech support in other sectors. Your problem? You believe we’re being rude, disrespectful and otherwise inappropriate. And you’re right. But you’re wrong, too. Rather than bitch about us, how about doing something to address the problems that make us so ornery? Yeah, you’re doing something. You’re exacerbating our problems by eliminating all possible human contact and pushing every possible means of support to the web – so when we do finally get you on the phone or on chat we’re already boiling from trying to use the junk you throw up on the web and call “self-service” (and I do mean “throw up” literally).

For example, Google just directed me to an endless string of “self-help” areas without ever leading me to a person – or even usable information. I finally stumbled across a live chat facility; got connected to an agent; who knew nothing about the problem I was trying to solve; but who did know a link that would supposedly show me how to correct the problem. As usual, I followed the link; was directed to do something with buttons nowhere to be found on the indicated screen, or any other screen I brought up; end of “help.” The next day I figured out on my own a workaround that gets me what I want but will leave Google endlessly running AdWords reports for imaginary ads. At least it’s their problem now.

Then you have Microsoft. Same policies, although they give you an offshore phone number to call for “support” from someone who speaks English as a fourth language. Seems like a means of discouraging calls and forcing those needing support to use their FAQs and links to useless information that’s rarely even on topic.

Here’s a novel idea for you. If you don’t want irate calls from us when we finally find a phone number to call, just try using your own instructions before posting them. Or better yet, have an admin person with only basic computer skills try them. You’ll be shocked. And the end results of fixing before posting will be a whole lot better than “blaming the customer,” which is all you’re doing now.

Why Don’t Companies Base Head Count on Meeting Customer Requirements?


I just read two news articles this morning of the type that make me gnash my teeth and shake my head. Both involved Fortune companies planned to cut staff by the thousands based on bad financial results. Say what? To these companies, I ask, “Why were you carrying so much excess staff you could do without?”

Most service companies carry double-digit percentage excess staff. Likewise for product companies in their back and front office settings. How do I know? Process redesign, streamlining in particular, plays a primary role in helping clients meet and exceed customer requirements. And we constantly find excess staffing over-distributing decision-making authority, leading to employee disempowerment and creating excess bureaucracy, both of which drive customers nuts. Today’s customers want to deal with well-trained, empowered employees and as few of them as possible – and on the web an increasing percentage wants to research and order commodity goods without any personal contact.

So how does head count typically change after streamlining? By a negative 15% to 20%, in our experience. But rather than streamlining, most organizations throw people at problems, and the more they add the less efficient and effective work becomes. So instead of streamlining to create a win-win for both company and customers, they create lose-lose by overstaffing.

Why do they do this?

Why Do Marketers Latch Onto Whatever’s New & “Hot”?

The numbers are disturbing. A 2011 Nielsen survey of advertising credibility ranks mobile device advertising 14th in a field of 15 and advertising on social media dead last. Yet these two venues are at the top of many marketing preference lists. What’s in the makeup of marketers or the state of their profession that makes them cling to whatever’s new and “hot?”

BTW, personal and online recommendations from consumers grabbed the top two spots. How does that add to the story?

Can Best Buy be Saved?


If Best Buy founder Richard Schulze and his team succeed in their planned hostile takeover (and take-private) of Best Buy, they face a daunting turnaround task. How do they fix this?

My wife’s computer crashed at a horrible time, and she needed to replace it immediately. Reflexively, she went off to Best Buy and returned with a new Dell. Before long, said computer started operating erratically, so back to Best Buy and the Goof Squad it went. And then…

1. Goofy sent it somewhere (Goof Squad central?) to be repaired

2. The repair shop took an extra day testing it after it was “ready”

3. Goofy local kept it for an extra day while he retested it

4. When my good wife picked it up, it wasn’t fixed (they claimed it was a software problem and not their responsibility); plus the microphone was no longer working

5. The thing continued running erratically

6. When the hard drive finally failed completely (see #4), we discovered ourselves we could send it back to Dell directly, despite Best Buy’s representation they provide the warranty service

Seriously, why would they want it back?

Do Sellers Need to Act in the Public Interest?


Putting “should” considerations aside, on the hole, do you believe acting contrary to public interest really hurts sellers? This question is really about buyers and whether they still care.

I can think of several examples that might support both “yes” and “no” answers. Looking back just a week, it doesn’t appear the Walmart job action affected much – in part because it didn’t attract enough workers. But on the flip side, Costco financially outperforms Walmart, and I believe very positive worker attitude driven by above industry scale wages and benefits has much to do with that (not that many people know that Costco pays better, we just see the positive effects while shopping). Another example that sticks in my mind is Target stupidly contributing to a PAC opposing marriage equality. The public outcry was intense and forced Target to give to gay rights causes and start carrying merchandise such as same-sex greeting cards.

The Target and Walmart examples give contradictory answers, and I’d like your observations and input.

How Would You React to a Black Friday Strike Against Walmart?


Judging by the number of class action employee suits filed against it (many won by plaintiffs), Walmart may be the most abusive major employer in the U.S. Walmart store workers are planning a one-day “strike” on Black Friday to protest benefits and working conditions (for international members, “Black Friday” is the day after our Thursday Thanksgiving holiday when Christmas shopping “officially” starts, and it’s the heaviest retail sales day of the year). Because Walmart is 100% non-union, participation levels are anyone’s guess, but the organizers are promising to have pickets outside stores, and they predict enough people won’t show up for work to cripple operations.

Please put on your own personal shopping hat and shed your business identity. As a shopper, how will you react if this action proceeds as planned? What impact will it have on your view of Walmart? Please comment generously. This is book research. :-)



Why Are Companies Feeling “Entitled” to Their Past Revenue/Margins?

One of our major utility companies just filed a rate increase proposal to make up for lower energy demand (they’re big on conservation). Interesting logic and even more interesting expectation. Likewise, we’re hearing large banks say they have to “make up” for lost revenues after being stopped from collecting unsupported fees. In both cases, companies are considering current income/profitability as an “entitlement.


Does this strike you as decidedly un-capitalistic, even for a regulated utility?

Is Customer Stress Having a Widespread Effect on Buyer-Seller Relations?

When assessing buyer-seller relationships, we tend to focus on elements of the relationship itself. Makes sense – at least superficially. However, when I evaluate the current state of buyer-seller relations, I feel like we’re evaluating a solar system minus a “hidden planet,” which is exerting an unexpected gravitational pull.

I suspect the unusually high ambient stress level people carry with them today is exerting that unaccounted for outside influence. Buyer stress appears to be introducing suspicion, mistrust and even conflict (all manifestations of stress) that do not stem from buyer-seller interactions themselves. Do you agree – or disagree?

How Much Does Corporate Design Fight Customer-Centricity?

Historically, virtually all corporate entities have been designed from production/service delivery out (inside-out). And a few unlucky companies have been designed from accounting out (upside-down).  In either case, when companies try to redesign strategy and process from the customer in (outside-in), they run smack up against their organizational structures.

Inside-out and upside-down companies are aligned and managed around functions. Customer-centric (outside-in) companies are aligned and managed around customers. Unfortunately for customer-centricity, companies can’t get from A to B by throwing a switch. The journey is rough and risky, which is a core reason why most customer-centric companies either started that way or transitioned before they were fully formed.

Based on my experience, the alignment change issue stops more companies in their path to customer-centricity than even lack of executive leadership. Do you agree?

If you’d like to do a deeper dive on this topic here’s a new white paper (parts of which will be folded into the book).