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January 8, 2016

Underestimating respect for people costly for business

Customer-service

Holiday shopping is a challenge. It’s a busy time for retailers hungry for sales and it puts business operations under pressure. Whether a business process facilitates or hinders a point of purchase sale is its ultimate test. Sales, employee engagement and customer loyalty all hang in the balance.

This year, my holiday purchases included a big ticket furniture item. At the cash register, I discovered the price of the item slightly exceeded the intentionally low limit on my store credit card. From my perspective, it seemed reasonable to expect a quick check would produce an on the spot credit decision.

A customer-focused process would be designed to complete the purchase quickly minimizing point of sale disruption. It was not to be. The department store failed miserably. Instead, what transpired was a comedy of errors engendered by a completely ridiculous back-end process.

Luckily, I have a good sense of humour, as well as huge empathy for beleaguered sales people. It also helps that I am endlessly curious as to where journeys like this will lead. Without these things I would have certainly run screaming from the store.

At the cash register, a simple call for credit authorization was first relayed to a third party financial service provider in the United States. Being Saturday, the call was further dispatched to a foreign call centre where a linguistically challenged operator struggled to comprehend the point of sale dilemma.

Apparently sensing no urgency, the request was transferred to a further level of back-office scrutiny. After 25 minutes, the authorization was not to be. A second call was placed; back to square one; the same steps repeated.

Forty-five minutes later, the call landed with a local operator. This employee quickly understood just how close I was to departing the store empty-handed. The authorization was delivered and the transaction completed in less than five minutes.

Wasted time is a symptom of badly designed business processes. As Philip Kirby, author of The Process Mind observes, “time is not only hard cash, stealing time shows blatant disrespect for people.”

Respect for people is a key principle of processes designed to maximize customer value. Organizations that understand value is defined by the customer put great effort in ensuring that employees are able do what it takes to deliver, rather than making them prisoners of rigid rules or frustrating back-end processes.

Sadly, the true costs of this experience are likely unmeasured. Clearly, this store did not respect my – or their employee’s – time. Once a loyal customer, I will now shop elsewhere, particularly for big ticket items. I can only speculate about the engagement level of my salesperson who came so close to losing a hard-earned commission, but I can’t imagine it will hit any “highly engaged” targets.

What happened to customer service? I’m certain that I am not the only one bewildered at the sheer madness of experiences like these.

Is respect for people found in your organization’s processes?
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Tracey WhiteAbout the author

Tracey White is a negotiator, mediator and coach who specializes in strategic planning, execution, business operations, and analysis. She combines conceptual business acumen with a focus on metrics and data analysis to support evidence-based decision-making, planning and priority setting. Her strengths include Enterprise Project Management, Workforce Planning and Balanced Scorecard.

Tracey can be reached at tracey.white(at)strategyinaction.ca

Chipotle photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture


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