Demand, demand everywhere…but not a drop of value to drink!

PhoneScream…so I contact a (world renowned) bank about opening an account, but it’s not a basic request:

The comedy begins:

  • I look up the bank’s internet site to find a number to ring for my specific need. I can’t find anything that fits. The best I find is a ‘contact us’ email form, so I fill it in, explaining my need and asking for the right contact number.
  • I get an email back providing me with a contact number and instructions as to which IVR selections to make when I ring it (‘press 2 for blah, then 1 for blah, then 3 for blah’).
  • I ring the number. The IVR is nothing like the instructions. I listen to the (long list of) options. None fit my need so I wait for someone to pick up.
  • I explain my need to the agent that picks up and am told that “oh no, we don’t deal with that. You need to speak with ‘abc’ department. Would you like me to pass you through to them?” I say that, yes, I surely would.
  • I am ‘cold passed’ to this 2nd queue and therefore have to wait in line and then re-explain my need to the agent. They say “No, they shouldn’t have passed you through to us. You need ‘xyz’ department. I’ll put you through.”
  • Once again, I am ‘cold passed’ through to a 3rd queue, wait in line and re-explain. They say “We don’t deal with that. You need to speak with ‘blah’ department”
  • I listen to the original bloody IVR again! I’m really annoyed now. I think about hanging up, but I really want to talk to someone about my need. I decide to wait.
  • I get another agent and explain about what has just happened to me…this took time and I was clearly exhibiting signs of annoyance (funny that!). I asked them to PLEASE listen to my actual need and spend time with me to figure out if they can assist and then who can. They say that they need to transfer me to someone who can help. I pleadingly ask them to ‘warm transfer’ me over to that person so that I don’t start the merry-go-round again!
  • I was cold transferred to another number!!! After waiting for an agent, guess what, they couldn’t help and would need to transfer me to…..I hung up.
  • I went back on to the website, found the ‘contact us’ email address and wrote what I shall describe as a ‘strong email’….I am yet to receive a response.

Now, whilst the above is (verging on) humorous for those not involved, sadly I bet most of you reading it have examples of similar ‘service’ experiences to have happened to you.

To summarise the above:

  • there was 1 ‘white marble’ of value demand, the actual need for which the bank is there for;
  • there were 6 ‘blue marbles’ of failure demand (so far!), each of which the bank had to handle*, as if it were a valid unit of production;
    • * for each unit of demand they had to: plan and roster staff; handle the queue; handle the call (welcome, understand need, action, closure); record in their systems; performance review the agent as to how the call was ‘handled’….etc
  • each silo within the bank experienced their vertical unit of activity and probably met each target they set themselves: call answering time, average handling time, call resolution rate….and probably celebrated their success, perhaps with some awards, even some contingent rewards! ;
  • the bank is oblivious to the horizontal flow that I experienced;
  • and, worst of all, my need remained unresolved!
    • simply and clearly explaining to me that they can’t do what I was asking (if this were the case) would have resolved my value demand.

To use a current buzz phrase, there is nothing ‘customer-centric’ about this experience.

Why does the bank have this problem?

Because it bought into the economies of scale mantra of ‘standardise, specialise, centralise.’

Because it believed that what has been seen/ heard about in manufacturing can simply be applied to service.

Because it bought into technology as an automator of service provision.

What does this cause?

Silo’d thinking, in which effort is put into the efficiency of each vertical activity…at the expense of the effectiveness of the horizontal flow of value, from customer demand through to its satisfaction.

Massive waste that is unseen (though paid for) by the business yet is acutely felt by the customer.

“Cost is in flow, not activity….economies come from flow, not scale.” (John Seddon)

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” (Peter Drucker)

Now you might laugh at this, and think “wow, daft bank!” but, before we dismiss this as not something that could happen to us, I could equally have written about a similar experience I had from ringing an internal helpline at the company I work for. I didn’t (and won’t) write about this internal example because the point is to think about the problem and its causes, not to get caught by the error of blame.

The reason for the madness is the system (and management’s beliefs and behaviours), not the people within it.

None of the ‘customer service agents’ will have enjoyed handling my units of demand – there was no satisfaction to be had in helping me with my need. Each will have been left hollow by their inability to assist…and then they will have moved on to their next call….safe in the knowledge that they cannot change their reality whilst they work within their ‘command and control’ paradigm.

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