How organisations waste money and failed to provide competent service whilst thinking they’re cost effective and good

Step 1: Sign contract with a firm to pay them lots of money over an extended period of time.

Step 2: Arrange delivery of goods.

Step 3: Discover that firm uses a courier service which only delivers to your home address, only on a weekday and only in normal working hours. Oh, and charges extra if you wish to pick the day of delivery.

Step 4: Get email from courier service saying that you can, however, ask for delivery to a neighbour.

Step 5: Click link in email to do so and discover no such option.

Step 6: Call up courier and be forced to go through the automated system for a different parcel. Press buttons semi-randomly until manage to get put through to a human.

Step 7: Speak to said human. Get told “Sorry, my system has just crashed. I’ll have to call you back”.

Step 8: When get call back, book a delivery to a neighbour instead. Followed by an email saying the delivery had been tried and failed because no-one was at home, without any mention of trying to deliver to a neighbour.

Step 9: Call again and discover the problem was the neighbour delivery option wasn’t booked early enough, even though it was booked as soon as the email was seen.

Step 10: Remind yourself that you’re still in the legally mandated cooling off period and can yet cancel the whole lot.

Step 11: Wonder why given all the money spent on recruiting new customers, a little more effort isn’t made to treat new customers well.

Will this story have a happy ending? Who knows, but whether it all comes together neatly in the end or not*, it’s pretty typical of the sort of problems that blight service provision in both the private and public sectors** and which David Boyle so often writes so well about.

It’s also typical of the way these problems occur because you’ve got the cost-cutting (step 3) yet done in a context where it’s easy for the company employing the courier to think they’re providing a good service to customers (we send email notifications, we give you options, etc.).

Indeed, given the speed with which my phone calls were answered, the classic customer service performance indicators being monitored out of all this will be looking pretty good – especially as no-one has asked ‘where you happy with the delivery service?’, let alone ‘was the delivery service designed to be convenient for you?’.

It’s only when you delve into the details of how the full system fits together you see all the many ways that the people you’re meant to be serving get messed about – and that the apparent cleverness with email alerts and good performance of a call centre is actually masking many failures.

It’s a classic case of failure demand where mistakes generate extra work and where apparently well-performing call centres are actually failing, not succeeding, at serving customers.

* Update: oh crumbs, it really didn’t. But that’s a story for another day. (Pro customer service tip: if your phone system cuts someone off four times in a day, you really should at least make a promised call back.)

** If I was writing three days earlier, it would be the NHS not a private sector company used as the main example. Then it was an impressive series of just about every administrative blunder imaginable, only solved by deploying middle class sharp elbows and repeatedly insisting that an “urgent” referral which means an appointment in five months time isn’t good enough, and yet culminating with meeting a really good consultant.

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