Category Archives: Office Process

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.

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?

Layoffs – Where’s the Learning Curve?

One touchy subject inevitably arises when we design customer-centric process. And I hate to see it happen.

Redesigning process from the customer inwards produces an ancillary “benefit,” which to many execs becomes their short-term ROI justification. While new process designs are adding new value to customers, they’re also streamlining the organization, which can dramatically reduce front and back office FTE requirements, raising the specter of layoffs.

While we always consul clients to first consider using temporary functionless staff for special projects, then reabsorbing them to create “no hire growth,” some layoffs inevitably occur. One of our clients, post process redesign, eliminated 600 front office positions, and our process reworking contributed to the eventual closing of multiple plants. Worse yet, overall demand in their industry was declining, leading to very slow growth.

Two things really bug me about this situation. First, too many companies practice “boom or bust” staffing. They lurch from overstaff to understaffing, because they don’t have a clue how to avoid either excess. Second, necessary layoffs often cut people but not their functions or positions. Process streamlining should reduce functions and positions and does not target specific workers. And in neither case are they learning anything from experience. They just keep repeating their destructive practices.

Not a pleasant topic at all, but I just read an excellent post an excellent post by Ron Ashkenas (co-author of “The GE Workout”) that spot on addresses both things that bug me. If the subject’s relevant, I strongly suggest reading it (link below).

Confusing ISO with Process

Can companies with inefficient, even “broken” process successfully go through ISO-certification? Over the years, I’ve encountered a number that have, which answers the question for me. ISO certifies that quality standards are in place, but it’s a poor indicator of how high the standards are and whether they’re the best the company can do. ISO certification also fails to gauge whether process has been designed to optimize customer experience, despite including numerous customer-related standards.

Nevertheless, organizations frequently confuse the two. Any thoughts on why?

SOFTWARE ALERT: Avoid Microsoft Office 365 (at least for now)

Without the usual new product fanfare, Microsoft has unleashed Office 365 on the public. I suspect underplaying the launch points to Redmond wanting unsuspecting buyers to pay for their beta testing.

Don’t get me wrong. OS365 is a powerful concept for small business people who travel. All your apps in the cloud – but more importantly, you can keep all your files up there in your own, almost no cost SharePoint site. And Outlook can reside up there permanently, preserving the data history you lose when you travel without bulk transfer of Outlook data from desktop to laptop when you leave – and the reverse when you return. Of course, we can use LogMeIn or one of the many remote access tools. But they’re slow – and more importantly to me, they take a bite out of an already small laptop screen. Squint time.O365 would resolve all these issues. Easy traveling. If you could even load it. I got as far as trying to preserve my normal e-mail address while switching. Unfortunately, MS has designed a URL ownership verification system that requires adding some text to your URL record, whatever that is. As a “convenience,” to reach your URL registration manager you must use their utility which takes your URL and finds the registrant, often your ISP. But in my case, it popped up the wrong group. And when I finally found the list of values this utility works from, there wasn’t a single URL manager listed I’ve ever used in my relatively long history of business Internet presence. Plus, there’s no manual override.

To solve this and other problems I’ve already encountered, subscribers are supposed to access some magical O365 community that will provide all the help you’ll need. Unfortunately, I suspect this “community” is a ghost town. No one answers. Not even any acknowledgments of receiving your requests, the way the big boys do it.

Promising app? In theory, you betcha. But for now, looks like O365 will be yet another broken promise from Microsoft.

Is the Process Industry Pigeonholing Itself Out of Existence – or are We Taking a Scope Leap Outside of Process?

Let’s examine an historic process breakdown – Sprint’s intent to “fire” unprofitable customers – that nearly put Sprint under after news of the plan went viral. It took all five primary, customer-centric process elements being badly out of whack to allow Sprint to assume that its “targeted” customers were at fault for repeatedly calling customer service and tying up phone lines and staff time.
1. Workflow:  Sprint decided to take a meat cleaver to its customer base for cost-cutting reasons. It never drilled down to identify why customers were calling so often. Any workflow analysis worth its salt would have culled out that information.
2. Communication flow:  Customer service reps sure knew why customers kept calling – Sprint kept mis-billing a myriad of them – but management apparently didn’t know.
3. Data flow:  Basic information capture indicating reasons for customer calls would have raised a gigantic red flag no one could ignore.
4. Enabling technology:  Where was Sprint’s technology platform while critical customer input went un-captured and un-assessed?
5. Organizational design:  Rudimentary assessment of all three flows would have clearly indicated that such a high volume of billing calls – where service often had to engage billing – did not belong in customer service.
Now, here’s what I mean by “process pigeonholing.” Based on process threads I read almost every day, most process professionals would call what Sprint set out to do “bad management,” not “bad process” leading to uninformed management. Why? Because traditional process deals primarily with with how work is done – not about what work gets done why and when; not with how customer input is communicated throughout the company; not with how data is routed and analyzed (except for BPMS, which is often a hammer trying to sink a screw); and especially not with whether the organizational design supports customer-related work. Of course, many are now claiming their process approaches cover all this ground. But where are the too lsets, the training, the skill sets?
As a postscript, do you think the small community (by percentage) taking the expansive view of process should just leave the “P-word” to narrowcasters and start calling what we’re doing something else? How about “building customer-centric organizations?” :-)
Okay, a little tongue-in-cheek here. The suggested name is actually the name of a new group bringing together the multiple professions involved in creating customer-centricity. We’re at:

Does redesigning process to cut waste produce similar outcomes to redesigning process to improve customer experience?

Before you protest, I do understand that waste-cutting process approaches can be applied for the benefit of customers. But here’s the difference I’d like to highlight.

Waste-eliminating approaches change internal operations – albeit increasingly to benefit customers. In contrast, customer-experience focused approaches changes what happens at points of customer contact and works its way back inside the company, almost in concentric rings. While customer-sensitive, waste-focused process approaches work from inside the company outwards towards customers, trying to add more customer value at every step – customer experience process methods move in the opposite direction.

I’ve designed process both ways, depending on context. But I do find the outcomes radically different – with customer-experience-based process design triggering far more organizational change and involving much more application-layer technology support (which is not appropriate for every context).

How does my experience square with your hands-on process work? And I hope this doesn’t sound exclusionary, but this is such a ground-level experience that I’m especially interested in comments from experienced process practitioners who have “been there,  seen that” for themselves.

If good process design simplifies work, why are most approaches so complex they detract from process’ “customer-first” mission?

Not only should good process design simplify work, it should also appeal to workers who must intuitively understand the method before they’ll embrace significant work changes that result from redesign – instead of fighting them. The Outside-In approaches – Visual Workflow, CEMM, IDEAS & Process Experience – all do the job.

So why are traditional, inside-out process design approaches complex, requiring special training to understand? And why apply them in front & back offices and service settings where knowledge workers not grasping “what’s being done to them and why” will almost automatically generate resistance to change? For the benefit of the change management industry, I guess. The growing interest in business process redesign has greatly expanded the change management community.

Of course, many approaches address these issues by deliberately not going far enough to “rock the employee boat.” But taking this tack doesn’t get companies remotely close to customer-driven process that adds significant new value to customers.

So far, the process industry as a whole seems unable to answer these questions. Which may be why interest in O-I process is growing.

What’s the consequence for marketing, sales & service of poor business/IT communication?

For sure, communication has improved over the past 10 years. The “cold war” has ended, and the two sides are talking. However, this dialog can often be described by one of my son’s tee-shirts, which says: “I can see your lips moving, but all I hear is blah, blah, blah! And almost everywhere we go we see technology not enabling process or enabling bad process. 

Which party is more to blame? IT is the traditional bogeyman, but I believe that’s misplaced. The business side does not have it’s act together here and is all too willing to point fingers at IT without accepting responsibility. I’ve written two articles on this topic that present my reasoning. You can bypadd the qualification step on our side (which is optional) and go straight to them if interested:

Why Can’t Business Streamline Front & Back Office Operations?

The latest McKinsey Quarterly reports new data that should upset those designing organizations and managing operations in O/S (office/service) settings. While manufacturing managed to reduce its expense-to-sales ratio by 2.7% over the past year, despite 90& 0f cost-cutting initiatives failing to last beyond 3 years, the SG&A (sales, general % administration – which is basically front and back offices) remained flat.  And these outcomes defy reason, because office “bloat” is virtually endemic to business and is rarely addressed, while most manufacturing operations had already been streamlined to some degree by year 2000, the starting line for data aggregating.

A quick and spurious retort might be, “Hey, we’re just taking better care of customers.” Wrong. When redesigning office organizations and process Outside-In (starting with customer needs), we routinely find clients can – and should – reduce overall office FTE count by 20%, and often more. All these extra people are standing in the way of delivering what customers want most, second only to quality products backed by quality service – dealing with well-trained, empowered employees. Also, the more hands touching work without adding value the greater the number of “fumbles.”

But those are just the facts (and the McKinsey data is corroborated by heaps of empirical evidence). Whose responsibility is it to streamline O/S workplaces? And considering at least some efforts are underway, why aren’t they improving the overall numbers, which empirical evidence also supports?