Process Obsessed and Customer Hostile

Economic Times - September 14, 2009


We know of a person who got a call selling him life insurance from a company from whom he already has a policy. He asked whether the caller knew that he was already a customer, and she said she had no idea. She was presumably following the process laid out for her - get a bunch of cell numbers in this manner and call them and proceed using this script. Viewed from the customer's side, he was really hassled. These were the folks who were supposed to pay lots of money immediately to his wife, if he died suddenly. And they didn't even know he existed. The company's response to this was to say "in a cold calling customer acquisition process, it isn't really possible to control this duplication". Anything more, like for example feeding the number and name into a computer and getting a call - don't call verdict would be too complex for this process and hence "unnecessarily expensive". After all, the 'cold calling" part of the "customer acquisition process' was meant to be a low cost way of generating warm leads and doing advertising cheaply. However there is another cost that no one is looking at. The cost to the brand, the cost of depleted trust, the cost that the said customer might decide he needs to not put all his family's future eggs into one basket and buy future polices from other providers as well, instead of just enhancing the value of this one. CEOs often say, in their best "you don't understand operations and implementation" tone that it "just isn't possible at this scale. It isn't easy to do". But that is exactly the point. Competitive advantage will come from finding processes that deliver value to customers and deliver value to companies too.

Consider this one. A bank that says it offers 24x7  banking  services  which  include  safe  deposit  locker  facility
- and it does. Doubtless the process has been refined and perfected to not over staff it for light loads at night etc. But the 24x7 process also states that only one person can go in - even if you are mother and daughter who want to view the contents of the locker together and decide what jewellery top take out to wear for a wedding. It also states that only fifteen minutes or ten minutes are allotted to you inside, even if it is three in the morning and no one else is here - even if that's exactly the reason why the customer came at three in the morning. No doubt there are good reasons for all this from the bank operations point of view. But surely this process could be designed with more customer insight? Especially the entire purpose of doing a 24x7 branch was to delight customers!

A third example, from a telecom company - the process design says that if you can't satisfy the customer who is complaining on the phone, tell him/ her that you are transferring the call to the 'chairman's office'. Any dissatisfaction or further customer unhappiness at that stage is even worse for the brand! Anyway in this case, the person had written at least four times in six months saying that he didn't want the connection and could they please disconnect it. The phone was not used but the rental bills kept coming, and then the strongly worded "pay up now" letters and the collection agent at the door followed. When the customer pleaded with the Chairman's office where the call had been diverted, he was told that he had not followed due process ( using a particular form available from a service centre etc.) in asking for termination of the connection. What would it take for this process to be designed in a more customer centered way? Customers who want out will write/ call/ e mail and say "please take this away". Surely the company can find a safe and iron clad way to terminate the connection and not risk any further trouble for illegal or unlawful termination?

Why does a lot of this not show up in customer satisfaction surveys? Because customers know what they know, and don't know what else they can get; in any case, the name of the game is not customer satisfaction but customer value enhancement compared to competition

What does designing processes which are both organization benefiting and customer centered take? It requires far more creativity and innovation, because the answer isn't easy. It requires that the 'designing' part of the process be given the same seriousness as ,say, product strategy; that it be done using a team which has the skills and the respect for customer understanding; and that the mindset of "it just isn't possible , let's be pragmatic about this" is done away with. As we said in an earlier column, outsourcing is often harming the brand. So all the more reason why the processes have to be customer centered, customer sensitive. All the processes or only the customer facing ones? If you agree that a business is a value delivery system i.e. that every part exists in order to deliver the rivalry proposition to the customer that makes him buy you and not someone else, then the categorization of customer-facing and a customer non-facing functions or activities or processes doesn't make sense. They are all customer proposition delivering functions, activities, processes and must be design for both the customer and the company to win. After all, isn't that what the struggle of business is all about?