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Why you get bad service; and how organisations can fix it.
on 17 September 2008
John Seddon has written a great book, which I hope becomes a management classic and mandatory reading for all politicians and managers.
In it he explains how the current government focus on micromanagement and targets has made services worse and more expensive.
Do targets work? They work inasmuch as they encourage people to meet the targets - that's what they get paid on - but in order to do so they will 'game' the system. I have never known a system where this has not happened. So they meet the targets, but at the expense of customer service.
John shows that targets are destructive and counterproductive. An example I have witnessed. A time limit was put on telephone enquiries. So after one question, if the customer had a second question, some operators would tell them they had to call in again to get the second question answered. (I always wondered if the manager who made the call length target also reduced the length of all their conversations and meetings to 3 minutes). This is an excellent example of arbitrary management decisions, not based on any reality, but with the thought that by focusing only on a step in the process they can reduce costs. Of course, without looking at the whole process, it is more likely to increase costs. We all know of other examples - I have just received a form from the tax man to be filled in without any return address or envelope to send it back in. So I call them to find out. These failures in one part of an organisation make more work elsewhere. Getting service right first time is always cheaper (and if you don't agree, in explaining why, you've just proved my point!)
More importantly, John shows what you can do about it: simple practical steps that do not need an army of consultants or massive IT projects.
Who knows best what the work actually consists of? The managers in their offices? The people in head office?
Why not get the workers to fix the customers' problems, and where they cannot, get them to drive the process changes (with the help of their managers - you knew managers had to have some role). This is illustrated with lots of examples. Whilst John is very wary of quoting the sort of productivity improvements you can get, his examples range from 20-40%. But setting out to save money is a way to fail; getting the service right (not necessarily the best service, but as John shows, service that does the job in the way the customer expects) is the way to lowest costs.
Lots of ideas in a powerful book. Enjoy.