Adventures in Customer Service, Looking for "Lean Solutions"
I was a big fan of the book Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together, but I'm not sure how much of an impact it's had on the business world. There are still far too many siloed, un-Lean “solutions” out there that do indeed “waste the customer's time” (as Womack and Jones railed against… don't waste the customer's time, they said).
It might just seem like I'm ranting, but stick with me to the end and I think there's a lesson or parallel that can be drawn for hospitals and other types of organizations.
Case 1: I lost my AT&T corporate calling card while overseas last week. I used this as a backup for when my Skype internet calling wasn't working well due to hotel bandwidth issues. So I called AT&T's customer service line and had this exchange with the auto voice “recognition” robot:
AT&T: What can I help you with?
Mark: I lost my card
AT&T: You lost your card. Please enter or say your card number.
Um, I, you know…. lost the card! I'm sorry I didn't have a backup somewhere. If I had the number written down, I could have continued using the card and wouldn't have had to call.
Frustratingly enough, the live human I talked to made me repeat all of that information, which proves the role of the auto voice bot is to screen customers (for AT&T's benefit) rather than providing service (for the customer's benefit). Any time you have to repeat a number you previously typed in, it's probably because the systems don't communicate, rather than being for the excuse of “security purposes.”
So, bad marks to AT&T
Case 2: I'm actually quite thrilled with amazon.com right now. My personal credit card # got intercepted or stolen in England somehow, although I didn't lose the physical card. Wo what does Amazon have to do with this? THEY discovered the problem.
I'm sure there is some fraud prevention and cost avoidance on their part, but this also served me, the customer, well. I got an email from Amazon (one that looked a bit like a “phishing” expediton, but seemed legit since it didn't want me to click or enter info anywhere) that said, in part:
We perform routine reviews of orders to protect our customers. During one of these reviews we discovered that an account was opened with a card used by you on another account. For your reference the card in question is a XXXX card which ends XXXXX.
As it appears the card was used without your authorization, we have closed this new account and cancelled any outstanding orders.
Wow. Amazon discovered this BEFORE my credit card company. Nicely done, Amazon. To me, this goes above and beyond sending an email out like this.
Case 3: Time to cancel that credit card number. I looked online and found, of course, a fraudulent charge on that card, about $500 in “Home Depot” type purchases in an English town about 15 miles from where I was staying.
American Express was pretty much a pain to deal with, as I was handed from person to person.
I started off with one phone rep, one who took care of disputing the card. I then had to be transferred to a different department to issue the new card and number. They asked if I wanted the card over nighted out to my home address (I was on my way from from England, so I said yes). Believe it or not, they had to transfer me to the “overnight department” who AGAIN collected my info an initiated the overnight shipping.
This wasted my time. And it was frustrating.
American Express apparently has its call center and customer service organized along narrow, specialized silos. This might make it easier to train people, but it's not easier for the customer. Why not organize along “value streams” or customer needs?
I'm sure there are enough people in my situation where they could have a department of people who could handle the typical needs of a “stolen card or #” customer END-TO-END. I'm sure you process map out the likely customer needs in that scenario, equipping the staff with training required to, imagine this, actually take care of their needs, completely.
Of course, this reminds me of how hospitals can be structured — full of silos that hand off patients. One hospital I worked with had patients complaining that, before outpatient surgery, THREE different people called them for different reasons in the same day. When they got voicemails from different people in the same area of the hospital, it was confusing and required multiple calls back. It wasted their time. The “Lean” recommendation was to cross-train staff so that a SINGLE phone call could address patient needs.
So it's not just phone companies and credit cards. Can your hospital or organization make similar improvements, organizing around value streams or patient pathways, rather than by silo or function? What gets in the way of this, other than cost and inertia?