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Reading HBR I came across the following blog entry: http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/08/lame_customer-service_excus.html. This blog post by Robert Plant is, in my opinion, raising a very important issue. Namely who is behind “models”, “systems”, “rules” etc and what consequences those have on your daily work. And I am not only talking about software systems, although in their case the problem is the most obvious.

Mr. Plant’s experience is so much like many others. When you deal with support, mostly (without realizing it) you speak to someone far away and not necessarily a specialist. This may very well be a person sitting in India in front of a computer with specific scenario to go through. Regardless of what you say. Here an Apple technician looking into the headphones hole for red colour comes to mind. He follows a scenario or a procedure, which Apple dares to call “customer support”.

Where those procedures or scenarios come from? Mostly, unfortunately, from people who have only some idea as how things work, but have a very strong opinion about how things should work, forgetting (if they ever knew) how things were when they served on the front line. People working on those front lines would tell you that scenarios work only up to a certain point, after that, some discretion, imagination and initiative is required. Meaning a customisation of scenario which is, as Mr. Plant found out, not allowed.

Other danger lies in transfer of knowledge from one industry to the other (or one company to the other) with management. Imported managers usually have a very strong opinion of what should work in their new workplace simply because it worked well in their old one. Often they will not even consider that the new employer has different culture, that things are done differently in new workplace. New employees they are responsible for are not allowed to criticize, they are to follow procedures. Consequences are also dire, but repairable.

But the very worst consequence of those scenarios is that in many service areas there is a disregard for service personnel and great area of knowledge those bring with their every day experiences. Companies get the idea that it is very easy to replace such workers and that they are relatively cheap, because they do not need to be skilled in service area. Those skills are to be taken over by scenarios. Obvious consequence is that whenever another crisis happens those people are the first to go – they are not considered to be valuable to the company, most of the time they are outsourced anyway. Therefore customers are not only dissatisfied with a service, they also stay that way and learn to anticipate bad service in the first place. We are actually being taught to expect programmed robot reactions instead of proper attention. Complaint will not make any sense anyway: another robot following scenario will most probably reject it as permissible collateral damage…

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