Beyond good company-customer communication, effectively serving customers requires intense internal coordination and collaboration–and not just in the front office but between front and back offices and within the back office. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. Internal communication continues getting the short end of the office process stick, even in communication-intensive business sectors such as banking, which we’re about to use as an example.
Changing internal communication requirements
Back when I was a pup, internal communication meant: a.) yelling over cube tops; b.) sending ubiquitous memos; c.) staggering from desk to desk with piles of green bar reports; and d.) just flopping down in someone’s office or cube and flapping jaws. Then, in my young adulthood, we expanded our repertoire with: e.) 8 ½ X 11 reports plastered with graphs and charts; f.) floppy disks (many of them infectious) and g.) printed slide presentations (a handy format for those who don’t write). Hey, it worked. Sort of. But in my wisdom years on came remote workers, mobile workers, outsourced workers, unidentified flying workers–which required a new communication medium.
E-mail tried to fill the void
Along came e-mail, and more e-mail, and more e-mail–business messages mixed in with baby pictures, wedding pictures, pornographic pictures, social invitations, love letters, rejection letters and lots and lots of gossip. Before long, in-boxes filled to overflowing, forcing recipient to constantly flush stuff out to make room for new stuff. You could almost imagine bursting in-boxes disgorging messages the way overfilled storm sewers blast manhole covers high in the air, leaving messages streaming down the street.
Only overflowing e-mail pipes aren’t funny. Critical messages drown in the flood. Coordination and collaboration go downhill. Internal tensions increase. Staff spends measurable portions of every day, some reporting 25% or more, deleting unread messages, reading a few, responding to even fewer and storing some to read “later” (LOL). And for the capper, time spent wrestling with e-mail coupled with work inefficiencies caused by inadequate internal communication drives up staffing requirements, often by double-digit percentages.
Banking too much on e-mail
If you think I’m stretching a point, let me describe a recent consulting engagement with a regional bank–which mirrors our similar experiences with other consumer FIs (financial institutions). How was our bank client handling internal communication when we arrived? Just as described above, with e-mail, e-mail and more e-mail. And while this bank provided good customer experiences at points of direct contact, problematic internal communication was more than a fly in the ointment. Customers were experiencing process inconsistencies, policy variances, excessive back office cycle times and mixed brand messages–while the bank was suffering from metrics issues, compliance problems and especially “over-employment” stemming from over-reliance on e-mail.
Mapping internal information flow
As customary, we dove into the snarl by assessing and mapping how customer-related work and information (synonymous in a knowledge worker environment) were moving from person to person and function to function. Here’s a high-level representation of what mapping showed.
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More like knitting than well-designed workflow/information flow.
Defining the problem
Specific problems we had to address included:
- Pushing messaging at recipients, which led to an overwhelming onslaught of communication.
- Sending many irrelevant messages, because senders lacked time to properly parse mail contact groups.
- Using a text-only medium, in an environment requiring visual expression (attachments are fine, but viewed even less than text).
- Messages competing for scarce attention, which meant most messages got little or none.
If we could address just these four issues, good things would happen.
Designing the solution
Fortunately, we didn’t have to start fixing from scratch; this was virtually déjà vu all over again. And in virtually every case, the core solution includes:
- Bringing people to information, rather than pushing it at them.
- Creating an intranet communication nexus.
- Combining index and search navigation to allow people to access what they need and only what they need–and access it quickly.
- Leveraging web graphic and media potential to communicate marketing campaigns, training information and both workflow and individual work process documentation.
- Creating employee accountability for religiously visiting the site for new information relevant to them.
Here’s how the “to-be” communication flow looked.
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The concept is simple. Every type of information has its own intranet “bucket,” with partitions for marketing, HR, training, process, policy, news, etc. Where necessary, buckets have precise, indexed links that allow quick access to information. Search is always an option, but inappropriate for retrieving granular content such as process and policy.
Every morning when employees boot up (and we’re all shutting down at night to be “green,” right?), a welcome screen lists all new information for the day. Employees are accountable for following appropriate links to need-to-know information for their function. Effecting that does require training plus willingness to apply consequences for non-compliance, but it’s a small price to pay for bypassing e-mail and communicating effectively.
Oh, and by the way, in addition to greatly improving internal communication, this “fix” will allow the bank to repurpose about 15% of employees into more value-adding work.
Not bad, eh?
For organizations relying on technical or finely parsed content, as banks do, creating and maintaining content consumes lots of time and resources. However, when you consider the ineffectiveness and costs of the e-mail alternative, it’s most definitely worth the effort. You betcha, it is.