Tag Archives: Customer Service

Customers Don’t Care about your Processes

A few years ago, I opened my credit card statement to find a huge late fee and interest charges.  Being neurotic about avoiding such fees, I tend to take care of my payment expeditiously after it is received.  Immediately, I called to check whether the check had been cashed, and indeed, the automated banking system indicated it had cleared some time ago.

I then called customer service at the credit card company.  After making me listen to content I had no interest in hearing (my balance, my next payment due, my cash forward balance, and a few other things I never use), I was put in the queue to speak with a representative.  After a short hold, a live voice came on and asked for the card number, holder name, and a few security questions.

Having made it through the security process, the representative politely asked me how she could help.  I described the problem and reported that my check had cleared, etc., etc.  I heard some typing and she reported back that her records showed the check had cleared their system the day after it was due and therefore, that these charges were legitimate.

I informed her of the date the payment was placed in the mail which from my recall was one to two days after I received the bill.  I heard more typing, and indeed, she was able to find another date indicating when the envelope arrived to their processing center.  I of course informed her that the arrival date was well before the posting date and the due date.  She then went into the description of the process of receipt, posting, and clearing in their process.  It takes two days for this, and two-three days for that, and you should allow seven to ten days for the mail, and another two-three days for this.  I politely informed her that the number of days she just articulated would indicate that I need to mail in the payment before I receive the bill.  She then informed me that in addition, there was a hiccup in the processing system during this cycle as there was a note in her records.

After hearing this, I suspected that she would immediately take the charges off my bill.  But the offer did not come.

I informed her that the only part of the process I can control is my ability to receive the bill and promptly put it into the mail.  As for the rest of the process and any internal delays, I have no control and cannot be expected to be held responsible for it.  In short, “I don’t care about your process.”  And, I need you to take the late charges and the interest charges off this bill and any interest charges you might be thinking about charging me in the next cycle.

She warned me that I get only one “grace” removal of charges per year and if I used it now, I could not request another for a year.  My urge was to inform her that if this happened again, I’d be removing my business entirely.  It wouldn’t be hard as I just need to open one of the three credit card offers I receive in the mail each day.  However, I refrained, knowing that she was simply following the script in front of her, and the script did not allow for the insertion of common sense or problems with the processing system.

Now this isn’t an uncommon problem in business, with either external or internal customers.  Having been in a few organizations, there isn’t one where I have not experienced a failed process that has impacted my ability to get my job done.  And in each organization, I receive the narrative about the functioning of the process, how it is supposed to work, the forms I need to fill out (often with some indication that I’ve filled out an outdated form and I need to fill out the new form to really make the process hum), and of course, I’m informed of the value of the process to me.

And though I deliver the message, most times, with some tact, the message is still the same: “I don’t care about your process.”  What I care about it is that my expectation was not met.  The promise you made to me as an internal/external customer was broken.  The deliverable has not reached my desk, is not working or it is causing me extra, unplanned work.  It is compromising a deadline for the clients I serve or is further stretching my resources.  I don’t care about the forms or the fact that a box wasn’t checked because the software didn’t recognize my click on the box and the individual decided not to contact me to ask about the box, but rather to let the project sit until I checked in to see why I saw no progress or wasn’t receiving my deliverable (again, no insertion of common sense).  I don’t care that now there is a new form or about the hours of committee meetings it took to develop the new form or about the position of the form in the newly revised process flow chart that took still more hours of committee meetings to rearrange.  I don’t care.  I don’t care.  I don’t care.

Customers care about the product or service they are receiving.  How it goes through your system and the quality of your system, not so much.  They care about quality of the end-product or service and the deadlines explicitly or implicitly implied.  They want their expectations managed, and if you fail to do so, customers will defect.  External customers will find different suppliers; internal customers will outsource.  And they should.

So the next time you are putting together or refining processes, I recommend two “reminders” during your development phase.  First, articulate what the customer expectation is and write that as your “purpose.”  Is the purpose of the process to efficiently process a payment, develop a technology, receive an order and ship a product, receive a repair request and get a technician onsite?  Secondly, articulate what the cost of failure of the process is to the customer.  Is it unfounded exorbitant charges, late delivery of a gift, no power or phone service, loss of a sale, or loss of a customer?

And as you develop or refine that process, refer back to the purpose and the customer cost repeatedly.  Further, constantly remind yourself that the customer, external or internal, doesn’t care about your process or your forms, the customer cares about the purpose and the cost.  Don’t let the process be your purpose; make the process serve the purpose.

I can almost guarantee that when your focus is the purpose for the customer and the cost to the customer when failure occurs, the process you design will be efficiency-focused (fewer layers and fewer forms), and in addition, it will also include the opportunity to insert common sense.  Now that’s what I’m carin’ about.

A Commitment – Not a Guarantee

Several years ago I had made a run to the post office at lunch time.  The post office nearest me was always busy, and I considered myself lucky if I was somewhere around the fifth to tenth customer in line.  As a rule, I would take work- related reading material with me just in case the wait was too long for my short patience.

 

The line on this day was relatively short, so I didn’t bother to bring out the reading.  Since customer satisfaction research was a good part of my job at that time, I noted with amusement a rather large, nicely designed sign on the wall referring to the post office’s stance at that time on its two-day priority mail.  It said in relatively large print (I gave them points for not hiding it) that two-day delivery was “a commitment, not a guarantee.”

 

I of course have borrowed that phrase now for several years in situations, at work and now at home, where the deadline is ambitious.  Now I find myself using to describe the current state of minds of many a working mother – or perhaps what their state of minds should be.

 

A colleague of mine who has been through the process of raising small children while working and now is on the other side with her last a senior in high school was attempting to counsel myself and another on scheduling time for ourselves – particularly in the area of working out.  We were both commenting on how we need to work out since not that long ago, we did so regularly and as we all knew, we had more energy, more patience, and really felt better all around.  However, regular workouts are just not in the cards.

 

Our children are all five and under.  We and our husbands get up & get them to daycare & preschool.  We work all day and then pick them up and feed them, prepare lunches & projects for the next day, do some playing and bathing and go to bed.  To incorporate a workout routine, it really needs to happen with a wake-up somewhere just before 5:00 a.m., and I’ve had some limited success with that prior to child number two; however, child number two, at almost 22 months, is still not a consistent sleeper.  I’m up at least once a night to re-settle him.  That awakening really throws me off since I often don’t go right back to sleep – after all, I can use that time of alertness just prior to dozing off again to think about work or what I need to get done that day.  I don’t intend to lay there planning in my head, the thoughts just come, un-welcomed as they are, and the dozing back to sleep sometimes happens just before Alexander needs another resettlement.  And the process starts again and dozing off tends to happen just prior to the alarm clock ring.

 

So our wiser colleague tells us that we still need to do this – even if it’s just one night a week.  Sign up for a spinning or yoga class & find a high schooler to come hang out just for an hour or so.  And I agree.  We should do it.

 

However, I found myself explaining my current state of mind to which my other working mother colleague agreed.  In my current state, I cannot commit to anything, whether it’s working out, charity events, networking, anything.  I cannot commit right now because anything that hangs outside my normal survival mode of “wakeup-school-work-dinner-prepare for tomorrow-play-sleep” stresses me out. 

 

We signed Nicholas up for swim lessons and now soccer on Saturdays.  It stresses me out.  If someone is sick, which has happened countless times this year, getting him to these activities is stressful.  If we want to go visit the grandparents, he has to miss and my goodness, what message does that send about committing yourself to the things you’ve signed up and paid for (and yes, I realize he’s not even five and this is absolutely neurotic on my part).

 

And this stressful state is also present in the workday.  There are several networking and training lunches that I could simply walk to and each week, one is on my calendar.  In the past two years, I have made a total of ONE!  As the lunch time comes, I start to panic.  For the past couple years I have used lunch to get a bit more work in.  Why?  Because it’s always on my mind that one of the boys could be sick – the phone could ring at any moment with the teacher indicating that I need to come collect one of them.  And what would happen?  My commitment to delivering what I intended would be compromised.

 

Some folks live life with “Eat. Drink. And be merry for tomorrow you may die.”  Me, I live with, “Work.  Clean.  Get the groceries and diapers bought for tomorrow you may be tending to sick kids.”

 

Thus, to add another scheduled commitment to my schedules is a tipping point..  I have a monthly commitment to my church where I am trying to help work on external communications issues.  It’s one night a month for goodness sake, but I worry.  Can I make the meeting?  Will I be prepared?  Will I be late?  Will I have some sort of unidentifiable goo on my shoulder from the quick hugs and dinner before the meeting that I don’t notice until later when I change into my pajamas?

 

Neither my colleague nor I can seem to live our lives with a “commitment not a guarantee” mantra.  We seem to need to guarantee that to which we commit.  Some would say we are too tightly wound (my husband actually would say that, but not out loud).  But, this is who we are.  And as our wiser, almost empty-nester then advised us, “this time will pass – just don’t wish it to pass too quickly.”  For now grasshoppers, attempt limit your guarantees just to those things that really need guarantees.

 

So as the sun rises just before 7:00 a.m. (I awoke this morning at 4:30 a.m. and realized no more sleep was coming – it’s SATURDAY), and as I turn forty-two today, my goal is to embrace that post office mission where possible and pick my guarantees, in work and at home, more selectively.  And today, I will take my very first run of my forty-second year (and spend the rest of the weekend in pain).