The workshop won’t allow it!

How often to we hear that one part of an organisation will not allow another part to deliver a service because the policies and procedures get in the way of common sense?

He is a local example of what happens in practice.

I have been talking to a motorcycle dealer recently about the option to change my bike.

Now the sale team have been really good at giving me access to ride the bikes that I wanted at a time that suited me. They have fed me coffee, and spent time trying to understand my needs.

Despite their best endeavours the dreaded computer systems managed to get in their way at regular intervals.  I have been asked for me address, and email address on a number of occasions, by the same two people for different computer systems!

In conversation the other day I found out that because this particular branch of the dealership is too successful they register some sales via their other dealerships. You will never guess why – because the supplier sets the dealers targets on an annual basis to sell units.

If they appear too successful then the supplier increases the targets to the point that the dealership begins to lose revenue! so, the dodge is to register units at different dealerships to disguise the success on one branch. making efficiencies

This makes good business sense for the dealer who is bound by the stupid rules of the supplier, who doubtless thinks that it is being clever.

The rub for the dealer in question is that this means that they have to travel backwards and forwards up and down the motorway to register vehicles at different locations to bend the rules set by the supplier.

Step back and hopefully you can see the madness in this target. The waste and additional cost that is incurred by the dealer to bend the rules to maximise the income from the supplier and manage the outcome performance at the year-end.  Not to mention the impact upon the customer!

This is sadly not unusual in businesses, who for reasons best known to themselves put in place silly rules and procedures in an effort to control the market place.

In reality of course the same number of units is sold in the market place what ever the supplier decides, but because the rules the dealer has to manipulate the data to make the system work.

So that’s seems pretty normal, but then the stupidity really starts. I have received a great service from the guys at the front line trying to sell me a bike, they have done what they can to help me make an informed choice about a replacement bike.

All is going well, until I receive a call from my nice sales guy to tell me that I must pay a bit more cash over as a deposit because ‘ the workshop aren’t very busy today and want to work on preparing my new bike’ sounds good I thought, but then the bombshell.

The workshop won’t start the work until I have topped up my deposit to cover their costs!!

Guess what the sales team don’t run the business the workshop does! Now in truth it’s not the fault of the workshop manager. It’s his boss.

You see even though this is a small dealership they have very clear lines of demarcation. Functional specialisation on steroids.

They clearly have separate profit centres. If the workshop do work for sales and it does not follow through to a sale then the workshop loses out financially.

So the system quickly begins to breakdown from a customer perspective. What starts life as great customer service ends up as a trade-off between sales and the workshop and guess what –  the customer loses out big time.

Now it does not have to be this way. It’s a relatively small business, it has two locations. The systems in place plausibly look like they are adding value to the business, but in truth they all run around with bits of paper and talk to one another all the time, so what’s the need for a CRM style system.

Functionalisation is driving cost in to the organisation. I know from the relationship that I have built up that the margin on the sale is not huge, so why burn profit undertaking bureaucratic nonsense that makes life worse for the customer.

And as for the supplier of the product –  well it is a great product, but its relationship with its dealerships is based purely on number of units,  and yet its philosophy seems intended to be more customer centric.  The lesson here is about the unintended consequences of targets against longer term vision.

In the end I take delivery of a vehicle that does not have all of its accessories fitted. Some did not turn up in time, other bits are still awaiting for collection at the other franchise.

I need to spent time at some point going back for rework. In effect lost time and effort for the workshop who did not get it right first time, because the parts did not arrive at the right time.

Great product, with enthusiastic people trying to do the right thing within a system that makes it difficult to get it right first time: can the leaders spot the room for improvement I wonder?

Do you see parallels in your own organisation?

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Your call is important to us…

Like most of us I have a busy lifestyle and sometime need to be able to sort out banking stuff on the move.

I received a flier through the post from my bank inviting me to set up a special password that would allow me easier access to my accounts without the need to remember the name of my first cat, my grandmothers maiden name, the colour of my first car, and the details of a payment that I made a week ago in a supermarket .

Great idea, or so it seemed at the time. So I filled in the form and returned it as directed. The flier said that I would get a call from an agent to set up my unique access. When that did not happen I noticed an email in my spam list inviting me to call them to set up the access.

They save the time, you make the effort! So, I pulled out all the history information that I knew that I would need to get past security laid it all out in front of me and made the call.

The IVR kicked in and I entered  a string of numbers for sort code and account code, date of birth etc. etc. eventually I got through to an agent who calmly advised me that the section that I needed to talk to had closed for the day and that I should ring back! With that the phone went dead.

So much for good old fashioned customer service! Of course it was not the agents fault, she was only following orders: It was all about the design and management of work.

Will anyone notice, will anyone bother to listen to the tape and learn from their mistakes? I doubt it. The system works perfectly from a management view point.

The IVR routed me correctly through a series of checks to filter me and ensure that all the data that was needed to minimise the length of my call time was collected at my time and expense.

The average handling time would have been well within target. The problem from a customer point of view was that I did not get the service that I needed.

Does anyone care about creating value for the customer?

So much for phone banking, now where is my cheque book!

Scottish Power it goes on….

To my surprise I received a letter today from my utility company telling my how sorry they were that I had made a complaint.

The letter, computer generated obviously, gave me a complaint reference number a seven digit number, so they must get a few!

The letter outlines a three stage process to resolve my complaint. The letter tells me that If the complaint cannot be dealt with immediately it will be passed to the Customer Care Team, where a dedicated member of this specialist  team will resolve my query with 10 working days –  keeping me fully informed of progress throughout.

In the unlikely event that I am not satisfied the Customer Service Director will review it personally. Apparently I can also contact the Ombudsman if I am not happy.

Well those of you who read my last blog will know that I escalated the call to the Customer Care Team on the day and they intervened to sort out the cock up created by the system.

So now the computer has generated yet more waste by sending me a letter.

I have no doubt that the performance indicators for both the call hander and the customer care team log a positive outcome to my complaint which I have no doubt will be closed within the 10 days set as a target.

A bonus may even hang on this! All of this is costing Scottish Power to fix, but it’s not helping me the bill payer –  its all waste and pouring our money down the drain.

I cannot wait to see what the next letter says.

Can you ring back tomorrow?

Here is one to make you smile. I needed to move some money electronically to meet a commitment. The window of opportunity to do this was limited. All was going well until an error message appeared. I could try again later or call an 0845 number. Deciding to take the bull by the horns I rang the number, after the usual IVR sequence and trash music playing for a few minutes whilst I was reminded how important my call was to them I was answered.

The chap took me around a few loops trying and retrying the steps that had already failed, no doubt in accordance with the script, but the same message came back each time.  He made a polite exit for a short while to get some advice. More music and more waiting. He came back and got me to try the routine one more time. Playing along I dutifully went through the process again. Again nothing happened. So he made his excuses and disappeared again. This time it seemed like ages. Half a CD worth, or at least it felt like it.

Great news he came back on the line full of apologies about the delay. I waited expectantly.  He had talked to the department that could help us. Good news I thought! Alas they had just closed and although they knew what to do they could not help me because it was home time. The options available –  to try again later, or call them back in the morning and start all over again. I asked if there was a special number I could call to get the advice I needed. But no came the reply just try us again on the 0845 number.

No real surprise in todays world of call centres and IVR. The resolution is simple. Train your call handlers against the demands that customers most frequently have and give them latitude in the IT system to do what is necessary to sort the problem out. In the case of expert help have that expertise available close at hand for the caller handler  so that they can get help as and when they need it. Not wait in a call queue like everyone else to get help. Finally that help needs to be on hand for all the hours that the call centre is open. I thought clocking off at home time was reserved for old fashioned manufacturing plants not call centres.

So lost time for me. Lots of rework and waste in the financial services organisation. But all targets met for the day and everyone is happy. Except me as the customer. A crazy world!

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks.

A conversation this weekend stopped me in my tracks. A friend of mine told me a story about something that happened to him at work this week.  He overheard a call to one of his team from their internal sales call centre. It transpired that a customer had requested a delivery, nothing special you might think? However, the sale had come from a business a couple of hundred yards from where he was currently located. The irony was that the sales assistant in the call centre two hundred miles away was explaining that the order could not be placed with the local depot. Instead she advised that it had to come from a depot 50 miles away!

The logic – the sales targets indicated that the product needed to be delivered from that depot 50 miles away, other wise they would not hit their sales target for the month. Fortunately, my friend who was the manager over both sites stepped in to over rule the decision. He said to me ‘I thought this is madness,  I was prepared to take the consequences, and so I overruled the decision. The decision was ridiculous. Sales were not happy’. This got us on to a conversation about the stupidity of targets and the effect that they have within businesses. For the sake of a sales target the business was prepared to spend more cash delivering tonnes of product by taking a 100 mile round trip. How can this be good for business?

Fortunately my friend has a systemic view of the world, and was able to allow common sense to prevail and take executive action. He could see how barmy this decision really was.

The worrying thing is that If he had not been in the right place at the right time the business would have lost money, but it would have hit it’s sale targets for the month. How barmy is that!

He was the first to recognise that the sales team will be making arbitrary decisions like this every day. The sad thing is that he feels powerless to impact the command and control style of management that operates within the business.

Boys from the black stuff the story goes on..

Well it’s now twelve days since the saga started. You will recall that the local county council had resurfaced a road. In the process local residents had fallen and injured themselves due to the delay in scrapping the top surface off and truing up to resurface the road. The local paper picked this up and gave it publicity. In the process of finishing the job the road worked managed to fill six drains with a mix of the old top surface and the new black top.

Job creation

Well, the drains remain blocked. I have heard nothing from the council, other than an acknowledgement to my email. ( No real surprise there!) The autumn is upon us and the rainy season has returned.

I am wondering how long it will take the council to clear the drains. I am also wondering what the next issue will be, if they don’t pull their finger out. Flooding is on my list. A road traffic collision is not beyond the realm of possibility as the road in question adjoins a busy route. All addition costs and potential distress that could have been avoided if the job had been done properly in the first place. Better still that the inspector that visited the job afterwards had done their job properly and got the rework undertaken quickly. Of course if  inspection was built-in to the work on the ground then the job would have been left in a good shape. However, because management believe that you need to separate inspection from the job it causes sloppy behaviour on the ground, as no one accepts responsibility for the job. Every one blames someone else. Driving costs up and customer satisfaction down.

In the meantime the resurfacing work goes on elsewhere in the town. Guess what the drains are also being filled with debris. A systemic fault with the way that the work is being undertaken. Adding more costs for a council that claims to be hard presses for cash. Getting the job done right first time would be a start. I am guessing that the ‘chaps’ in their ivory tower over in Preston have not been out of the office to see what is really going on across the patch. If they did they would learn how to design and manage the work in a different way, producing better outcomes for everyone. The balanced score card that they rely upon is telling lies, but no one can see beyond the fiction created by made up numbers.

Watch this space….

Money for nothing!

Today I had to spend a few more quid speaking to a well known embassy to try and sort out the ongoing saga of a travel visa. For those of you unfortunate enough to have to get a visa for America will know how problematic it can be to get good advice. The web site failed to answer my basis questions, the search on the site  just lists media articles that are no use or ornament. So, off I go again spending £1.23 a minute plus network charges for the privilege of talking to a call centre operator somewhere on planet earth. The first minute is a sales pitch that you cannot bypass. I had to get to option 4 to get the access I needed, another minute gone; so £2.50 in and I had nothing to show for my efforts.

The query simple really- the travel plans had changed so what needed to happen next. Eventually I got through to a chap, we will call him Jim. I gave him a concise story and asked what needed to happen. He assured me that the visa would be ok and would stay in operation. He even suggested that provided I got into the country before the visa expired that I could stay out on the student visa until the end of my studies. Jim said he wanted to check some more info and would I hold, well what could I say-  he had me by the short and curlys really. So, off he went, eventually he came back apologising for the delay. The conversation went on a bit longer and then he said that he needed to speak to a specialist supervisor. Guess what I go on hold and he disappears to get help. Time and money is ticking away, but what can I do… Then he is back and guess what everything that he has said before is rubbish! He confirms that having taken more advice that in fact the visa will not cover the revised plans and that I will have to start from scratch. The visa that I have set up cannot be cancelled, and I cannot have a refund. Great news! Well at least I ended up getting an answer to my question, and to be honest I was not entirely surprised by the answer. However, the cost of this privilege ran to another 15 quid.

My beef is that the system, like most contact centre operations is flawed: Well at least from the customers view point. This particular contact centre is a licence to print money. Not only do you get charged a significant amount for the visa itself but you have to spend, on my count, an average of £12.50 for the privilege of speaking to someone. I have no idea what the leaders in this system get up to, well I do really, but they certainly do not understand anything about the nature of customer demand in their system. If they did they would have call handlers that were trained to answer calls against an understanding of customer demand. My question was not difficult, and yet Jim had to get help twice at my time and expense! Of course to the call centre manager it’s money in the bank –  the longer the call goes on the better. If the supervisor had answered the call I would have got an answer in less that half the time. Good news for me, but not for the business. A crazy world!

Room service

I have been using a hotel recently on business and have managed to strike up a good relationship with the local staff. My business priorities changed after I had made a booking locally at the hotel. No worries I thought I will ring them and let them know that I need to change my plans. That’s when the fun started. How hard can it be?  Well I was about to find out!

I googled the hotel to find the number and make the call. I hit an IVR system, I thought this is strange –  the hotel is not that big and an IVR system seemed a bit over the top. I started musing about the IT salesperson the had flogged them an overly specified system for the purpose. A large bonus would have resulted and you would have not seen him/her for dust. Anyway, back from my day-dream and  having chosen the bookings option I was then surprised to hear that I was 5th in the queue! It started to dawn upon me that this was not a call that was going to be answered by the hotel reception, but by a call centre somewhere in the world. To cap it all the message playing advised me that I was being charged 10 p a minute by the hotel for the call and I was still 5th in the queue. At this point I thought stuff it! I put the phone down and emailed the local sales manager at the hotel to make her aware of my experience and to change my booking. She answered first thing the following morning and all was well.

Upon my arrival at the hotel the sales manager immediately apologised for my experience and said that they had no control over the phone calls. The hotel group to which they now belonged had centralised it call handling facility some time ago and that there was nothing that she could officially  do. However, she then whispered that I could have the local number for reception which is managed about 20 hours a day and that they would be very happy to help me in future. Of course she was quick to let me know that this was against company policy,and she could be shot for giving the number to me. Shot for doing the right thing!

The conversation then went on to reveal that the centralisation of the booking system causes all sorts of problems for not only the customers, but also to the local staff. She said, Imagine trying to book a conference or a wedding through a call handler somewhere else in the world who does not understand the local hotel, its provisions etc.  It causes a lot of problems which have to be sorted out once the hotel become aware of the booking, causing duplication of effort and frustration for the customer who is keen to ensure that their event goes off well. As is always the case the local team pull together and do their best to make sure that the customer gets what they want on a way that best suits their needs, but at what cost to the business and its hard-working employees?

Another classic case of a bunch of suits in an ivory tower somewhere in the world thinking that they can save money by centralising and standardising their approach to customer enquiries. Of course they will be using a bunch of metrics that tell them that the system works wonderfully and probably also helps to justify the decision to invest in the IVR system and call centre operation. If only those guys got out of their tower and came to study and understand the reality of their decision through the yes of the customer and colleagues in the workplace they would understand that all was not what it seemed. Until then I will use the local phone number to sort out my accommodation. However, the obvious frustrations and morale of the staff will continue to suffer along with the reputation and lost business to the hotel and others in the chain until someone is brave enough to wake and realise that this does not make good business sense.

It pays to give bad service

I recently called  an embassy to fix an appointment to gain a visa for a relative  and it turned into an expense wild goose chase when the agent failed to do their job properly. Firstly, i was surprised to learn when i called the number that i would be charged £1.23 per minute plus my call rate. After all i was already paying over £100 for the privilege of a visa in the first place. A minute in to the IVR message i realised  that i needed more documentation that the web site suggested. So i hung up to get the missing information.  Then back to the phone i sat through that IVR message to get to the number i needed to set up an appointment. Fixing an appointment took a full ten minutes on the phone. I was then told that an email would be sent to me with the necessary information in it to enable me to undertake the next steps, which must be  completed before attending for the appointment.  Failure to do this would mean that entrance to the embassy would be refused.

So i waited patiently, and sure enough an email arrived but minus the all important documents that i needed to print off and complete in order to gain entry to the  embassy. Imagine my frustration when the email contained no attachments! The catch 22 – you cannot email the embassy you can only ring them on the standard number to get any help. This left only one option spend more money sorting their problem out. So i was forced to repeat the process – call the call centre explain the issue and attempt to get the all important attachments. Back through the IVR i went and eventually spoke to another agent who confirmed that the attachments were missing. She agree to send them to me again. No apology, no hint of sympathy for my inconvenience. 10 minutes and £12 poorer the documents were sent across to me. This time thankfully they arrived.

This is a system that clearly helps to cover its costs by the charging by the minute for its service. The individual agents are not to blame for this shabby approach to meeting customers expectations. The leaders who decided to to industrialse the process made the mistake. Unfortunately as the system is now a licence to print money no one will care. As customers with no choice but to respond to this dumb system we will be forced to continue to put up with poor service. Someone, somewhere clearly thinks that this service gives good value. My advice would be for a senior bod to come out of their bullet proofed glass panels and walk the workflow as a customer from start to finish. Only then could they see the broken system for themselves. As command and control thinkers they might need some help seeing the wood for the trees. Pity really as the average teenager can see what a ridiculas process has been created.

To top it all when you evenly get to enter the embassy in advance of the allotted time you find a line,   more a kin to queuing for a pop concert that a business meeting. You then find out that the time given in the original phone,  for which we paid £24, does nothing more than place you  in the very long queue. In all 2.5 hours was spent in the building mainly sitting around waiting for something to happen. Useful time spent totalled about 10 minutes max during the 2.5 hours. This ‘useful time’ was spent giving in documentation, much of which they already  had on their computer system, and answering a couple of questions. The waste , and cost, of human a time  runs to many hundred of hours a day. sadly no one cases about what matters to customers anymore we are merely numbers of a screen waiting and waiting……

Apparently we were lucky  – it can take up to FIVE hours on some days. Madness!

Data data all around, but not a bit that’s useful

It’s that busy time of the year for people in finance in local government –  ‘close down’.

A magical time when every last ounce of energy goes into the exercise.

There is a target date to meet and everything must add up, balance and be filed for inspection by the dreaded external auditor.making efficiencies

Life and death for accountants: like watching paint dry for everyone else.

During ‘close down’ it’s very difficult to get any useful information out of accountancy, as they are ‘too busy’.

So whilst the business goes on spending millions of pound a week managers run blind on what’s actually happening with cost, until they get an update at the end of the quarter. That’s when the fun starts again.

One persons view of a budget and spend profile is different to another. As the manager of the budget you often have limited say in what get reported to the many meetings that purport to scrutinize the detail only to nod it through.

It’s claimed that only the accountants really understand what the figures mean. In practice I wonder if even that it true.

The slight of hand that goes on to churn money in the system means that it’s difficult for anyone to know what the true picture is. By the time it gets reported, and audited the game has moved on.

Every year as a manager you do you best to manage and profile your spend to get value for money.

Now let’s not get started on VFM that will come up in a later blog.

A while ago in quarter two I was told that I was going to over spend by the end of the year by £2M (I was naturally quite worried) at the end of the following quarter I was going to underspend by £550K (now I was even more worried, did anyone know what was really going on?)

You could not make it up. What are you supposed to do!

Experience says keep your own information, so most of us keep our own spreadsheets just in case. They obviously sit outside of the main financial system, possibly even on memory sticks, but don’t tell IT as its against the policy to stick anything dodgy into your USB port.

At least having your own records gives you something to argue with when the accountant tries to manage your codes and your budget for you, and gets you in to hot water.

Ironically the latest accountancy system was introduced to remove the need for all those spreadsheets, but I am really glad that I secretly kept mine. It’s duplication of effort, but you cannot be too careful.

Another thing that bugs me is that fact that you are accountable for the budget and its spend, but the accountants mysteriously have secret powers to enter the system and move numbers around, seemingly at will, to balance things out for that all important financial report.

Overspends of course remain the managers problem.

This can be hugely frustrating when the overspend is cause by a cock up in accountancy when a Zero or the comma in the wrong place. Opps sorry these things happen!

Can you give me an explanation of the reasons for the overspend, and what you intend to do about it for the Management Team report. Oh and by the way the Director of Finance needs it by tonight.

The irony is that the budget is pored over and used as some amazing tool that informs our decision making.

In truth it’s a lagging measure, historical information regurgitated at various meetings to show everyone that we are in balance for the year against the agreed allocation of spend.

This whole exercise is an arbitrary judgement made largely on the basis of rolling forward previous years spent plus or minus a percentage.

It has little relationship to community or customer need, and gives us little if any information about true end to end operational cost of the services being delivered.

Why?  Because budgets are apportioned to hierarchical structures and further subdivided into functions and cost centres causing the system to sub optimise.

In practice this means that individuals manage the money that they have been allocated and spend it on the part of the organisation for which they have responsibility.

Simple really.

The issue is that each of us looks after our bit and has little, if any, focus upon the impact this has upon the customers that we are all here to serve. This in fact drives massive inefficiency and therefore cost into delivering essential services.

The result is that the organisation runs very inefficiently, but few people realise that this is the case because they are focused on their bit. The drive for efficiency only compounds the problem faced by many organisations.

Salami slicing or prioritisation of spend via a lottery causes individuals to act in a territorial way to protect spend in their area. It’s human nature.

The true cost of the system is in the flow – how things actually move around the organisation, not in unit cost.

Only by studying the organisation as a system can you begin to understand where and how to act to improve service and reduce operating cost.