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.
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.
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?
Best Buy just announced a plan to take out 50 stores, 400 HQ jobs and many thousands of store employees. They blame the need to scale down on overbuilding. I blame it on shabby treatment of customers that’s driven buyers out the doors.
Just several years ago many of us were singing the praises of Best Buy and CEO Richard Anderson for taking a customer-eye view of their business – including extensive staff training and upgrading retail floor talent. But then Anderson retired, they hired Brian Dunn as new CEO, and Dunn’s first pronouncements addressed profitability and efficiency, not customers. The writing was on the wall. Back to the old, company-centric business model – which today’s customers aren’t buying, just as they’re not buying Best Buy’s merchandise.
Sure enough, lots of formerly loyal customers, myself included, now use Best buy as a store of last resort. So they’re not lying about being overbuilt. But they aren’t fessing up to the true reason. And so they’ll double down on what they’re doing wrong and morph into “Worst Buy.” It was good shopping with you – while customer-centric thinking lasted.
I suspect most readers will instinctively answer, “No.” Production quality refers to meeting a normative standard with as little deviation as possible. Service quality means meeting customer needs and expectations, which are all over the lot. So they’re not only not two sides of the same coin. But they’re different currencies. They just don’t equate.
But here’s a catch, at least for process professionals. You can’t answer “No” yet still maintain we should use the same process design approaches to achieve both a fixed standard and a highly variable “non-standard” – at least not rationally. But too often traditionally trained production process people, anxious to move into the customer process world, fall into “Maslow’s trap.”
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, than all the world tends to look like a nail”
My LAN connecting my XP laptop to my Windows 7 workstation was working perfectly. But I had to go mess it up by wiping clean my Laptop hard drive and installing Windows 7. My software all installed more or less smoothly, and I was ready to go – but I couldn’t network. Hey, I couldda crawled under my desktop on my hands and knees every time I left on a trip to plug in my flash drive and sneakernet files, but I’m getting old(er). I couldda used LogMeIn from my destination when I needed something, but Microsoft always does some upgrade or other that shuts down my workstation. LogMeIn goes, “knock, knock.” But no one’s home.
So I did the desperate thing and called MS. Five minutes and problem resolved, right? No, five techs, including two from their network SWAT team, and problem still not resolved. Until the last one, sweating hard, finally fixed it – four hours later. From a customer relations standpoint, total disaster. From a process efficiency standpoint, total disaster. Unusual? Maybe on the outer edge, but well within the range of what MS can (or can’t do).
So what’s the cost to MS – other than throwing away money on decreasingly less-than expensive labor? In terms of Windows and Office, I think none. At least not now. But whenever MS strays outside their monopoly markets, swat. Customers are going to slap them down. I don’t think it’s hurting them now other than wasting labor money. But where I believe it will kill them is doing anything outside of what they do now – and even stuff they currently do outside their bailiwick.
I just read an interesting article titled, “The Service Dominant Mindset,” describing the demands and risks faced by marketing professionals because their industry is evolving from “product logic” towards “service logic.” I wasn’t far along before realizing the same story fits process professionals facing a similar shift from “production logic” to service logic. In both cases customers are driving change, and in both cases that’s forcing a new perspective and a new way of thinking.
The big question is, can the same people see and think differently?
I’ve watched the marketing transition from both inside and outside perspectives – and as I predicted early on, the answer is largely “no.” And watching the process world struggle with change now, I’m coming up with the same answer.
Why? Because brain wiring is hard wiring. While process approaches can be torqued around to do what they were not designed to do, the people implementing them aren’t nearly as malleable. The traits that make someone adept at dealing with process statistics, algorithms, sophisticated models and the like are not the traits that make someone effective intuitively understanding how to design work based on customer needs, wants and aspirations. In fact, the thinking comes from opposite lobes. Not many of us have ambidextrous minds, and definitely not me.
Most in the business community agree that adding and retaining customers is becoming harder by the year. And economic conditions will continue growing the gap between potential supply and trailing customer demand – even after the recession eases. That’s forcing more and more companies to change from company-first (inside-out) models to customer-first (outside-in).
The question is…how? Do they invest first in becoming super-communicators with customers with strong brands – or do they start by changing: what work is done; by who (organizational redesign); how; and with which enabling technologies – otherwise known as Outside-In process?
A marketer’s first reaction will likely be through customer communication. A process person will almost all come down on the side of customer-driven process. But what about those in customer experience?
I believe an increasing number of CEM folks are starting to agree with the process perspective. Not even well-trained and highly motivated customer contact staff can overcome bad process (and policies). And the most influential aspect of customer experience is employee contact.
Several years ago, my research partner David Mangen Ph.D and I (no Ph.D) conducted a study of both B2B and B2C buying triggers across a range of industries. Like many an objective research project not seeking to validate beliefs does, this one surprised us with several unexpected findings. Principal among these was customers ranking “dealing with knowledgeable and empowered employees” their second most influential buying trigger for both B2B and B2C. That’s a process outcome, not a product of branding or any other form of customer communication.
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.
I confess – I often don’t. But responding to emergencies requires thoroughly thought out process that mobilizes the right resources the right way at the right time. If you don’t plan out responses beforehand you get BP in the gulf coast or Toyota stomping all over its meticulously crafted brand.
But these disasters didn’t trigger me writing this. Instead, it was a superbly well-executed emergency response that still has me shaking my head in appreciation.
In the U.S., we have many, many people contracting salmonella from eating eggs. First, one egg-producing company had to recall about 350 million eggs. Then, a second producer had to recall 150 million more. This second producer supplied Costco, where we buy eggs.
Within scant hours of the recall, I received a well-produced robo-call (so well-produced I didn’t hang up) telling me I’d purchased eggs at Costco that could be carrying salmonella and had been recalled. I was instructed not to use the eggs but bring them back to a store for a full refund.
Can you imagine identifying a gazillion egg purchasers with their phone numbers from membership records and calling them in very little time with a cut-through” message? Yes, good intent towards customers is ultimately responsible. But executing the plan took exceptionally well predefined process and following it to a tee. Kudos to Costco, which I frequently include in my short list of Outside-In, customer first companies.
How about sharing some examples, good or bad, including the process or lack thereof apparently behind them?