Thursday, 19 August 2010

Computers, management and systems – rationalising the irrational

In the UK there is a new management system that is being deployed through call centres and I would envisage is also extending into traditional work environments.
The Problem
Call centres are expensive and trained people more expensive.
New solution (1)
Split up the services and farm out to remote call centres where call centre staff do not need to trained in any more than one thing. This means if you have one query the call centre should be able to answer it based on the options the original called has taken in the call options (Press one for this two for that three for self destruction etc).
New Problem which we are all faced with today
So by dividing the workload there is a successfully undertrained cheap labour force, what can be the problem?
What if you have more than one problem? This is where the whole system dissolves into absolute chaos. Because no one person can see or has control over the whole system it must implode and customer service must drop through the bottom of the call centre.
You must have experienced it yourself; I have been on the receiving end of it many times recently as I have had to move house on a number of occasions. So I will take this as an illustration:
Whereas once upon a time I could phone up a service provider and let them know I was moving and ensure all services were available when the move happened so there would be a seamless transition between services even when I had changed provider. So Let’s say I was using one internet provider and moved to another house and decided this would be a good time to change providers this would be no problem, I could phone them up cancel one and let the other know when I would be in the new house and sure enough on the day of the move the internet connection, router and accompanying services would be ready to go, all I would need to do is configure the router and plug it in to the computer and off I went.
How was this achieved? Simple I would speak to one operative over the phone and explain my own personal circumstances, explain the uniqueness of my situation and the telephone operative would ensure that all the things happened seamlessly in the background.
So why can this not happen any more in the UK?
Because we have fragmented the services and the customer support teams. Each team has knowledge of their own section (accounts, broadband, TV, whatever) but no one has the ability to access all these at any one time. The most constant thing I have been told recently is that we cannot do this because it they have no access to that database. So going back to the illustration previously outlined; instead of telling one call operative the situation and having it dealt with, I as a new caller must now seek to navigate the strange world of the disembodied call centre service where I speak to one person, whom I have to go through a number of security questions with and then proceed to explain the issues such as I am moving and need to get broadband so it is up and ready for when I move into my new house. This operative will undoubtedly explain that I need to speak to another department called new business, or something of that ilk. “fine” I am happy to talk to them, and when I get to new business I have to repeat the security stuff and re-explain my specific needs only to be told that this is not a problem as everything will be set up in time, as long as I am in the property now.
Now? “No sorry I am moving to the property, have a new number already installed and line up and running, I just want the broadband to be ready to go when I get in to the house”
“Sorry we cannot do that; you need to be living in the house before we can complete your order”
“why is that?”
“Because it will take ten days after that for us to send you the router and activate the line”
“Well… send the router now and activate the line now please”
“Sorry can’t do that, you will need to speak to new business for that”
“Okay put me through…”
“New business… can I have your name…..”
And so it goes on in an never ending cycle of people who do not have the authority to do what you need them to do or do not know they do not have the authority as they have not been told that yet as they are too low in the hierarchy.
So what?
Well this might seem a little strange but apart from the appalling customer service that everyone in the UK is now receiving as a result of this method of management It also has a number of implications for management in general and computing.
For management it is a false economy as I, like many others will not tolerate this incompetence and switch providers, I agree eventually they might all hit the nadir but I hope common sense prevails. There is also a false economy as I am not taking up the time of three or four people on, often successive, occasions with one simple issue which no one can resolve; this means that the call centres are spending 3-4 times the amount on not training their staff which is a clear false economy. It also deskills the experts, who have worked at the call centre for years and know all the tricks but can no longer use them as they have restricted access to the different databases.
For computer systems and engineers the problem is a human factors one. It is down to the Human factors people to ensure that this never happens, that we do not fragment services that should be connected. It also means that processes and procedures that are in the real world should not mirror a computer programme which seems to be what is happening.
I fully agree with systems thinking, by which I mean thinking about the interaction of the whole system as well as the independent parts. In computers there are few independent parts, perhaps software is relatively independent as long as the basic infrastructure such as Windows or IOS are in place you can run what you like on your own computer.
What is clear from the management school of customer care is that someone somewhere has separated out interdependent processes and labelled them independent. By doing this they have lessened the dependability of the whole dependability of the call centre structure and made the service to customers fail at the first hurdle.
The sad thing is this is relatively easy to remedy but the short term gain seems to outweigh the long term imminent implosion.