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Break-Fix Industries Toil in Wake of Distrust


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I have worked with several break-fix (HVAC, auto repair, home/commercial repair and plumbing) industries in recent months and all have a significant trust issue to overcome with customers.  The variation of service and recommendations made to customers in a profession where trust is needed.  Advertisements and marketing can not over come the general malaise customers feel when having to pick up the phone and call these establishments for service.

I suspect some are rotten to the core, but my experience working with these folks is that the systems are poorly designed and promote inconsistent and wrong behavior in the eyes of customers.  Sometimes its the incentives and rewards workers get for greater productivity or selling a new unit, other times its just poorly designed systems with outdated management thinking.

Whatever it is, when you work with these folks you get a defensive knee-jerk reaction from customers that trust is not present.  Most customers don’t need to be prompted about their opinion or require only a small nudge when you ask them “how the service is?” 

Missed commitments, unmet expectations, repairs being redone, missing/wrong parts, disappearing acts, over-pricing, under-delivering are just a few of the things customers experience.  These all play into the trust factor that customers feel.

As I have collected customer relevant data in these industries the measured performance has been for the most part atrocious . . . as one might expect.  Leading one break-fix company employee to remark “we are constantly exceeding low expectations.”  Customers can only hope that this is not the vision for a battered industry.

The key to this industry will be to get in touch with their customers viewpoint and not its income statement.  The former drives the latter.  This is a wide-open industry that requires only one really good company to reverse the trend.

Ways to reverse the trend are to Perform “Check” on your organization.  This requires you to go to the point of transaction where the customer interacts.  Here, you will understand the “what and why” of current performance.  Good questions to ask about your customer management process include:

  • What is the purpose of this system? Or the customer purpose?
  • What is the nature of demand?
  • What is the predictability of the system?
  • What is the flow of the work?
  • Why does the system behave this way?
  • What are the underlying  assumptions about how the work is managed?
  • To rebuild trust in customers there is a general need to change thinking.  For management in these industries this will require them to change too.

    Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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    Monitoring and Inspection Mania in Government


    Being a US citizen is getting to be more expensive every day.  The banking industry is headed towards unprecedented monitoring and inspection.  This on top of an industry so functionally designed that the number of internal handoffs are already making banks both inefficient and ineffective.

    The madness is starting to catch in other areas of government.  Take the recent proposal to monitor pilots by the National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB).  The idea was spawned by those pilots that overshot the airport a few months back.

    Just like banking when someone embezzles the reaction is predictable even if the event itself is not.  Overreaction and making sure that situation never happens again by additional functional separation of work, monitoring and inspection.  The fallacy is that we can inspect and monitor our way to improvement, but all this does is add costs that the consumer will pay in either higher prices or taxes.

    I have seen this thinking in my home state where Indiana FSSA with all its cynicism is going to prevent $1 million in fraud (over a 4-year period) by additional inspection and monitoring in their eligibility program.  This will cost 3 times as much (or more) where a better design of the work would reduce cost in operations and inspection.  The price of ignorance is high for those educated but operating under old theories.

    And so it is with the NTSB and the pilots.  We live in a world of “gotchas” through expensive monitoring and inspection . . . we wake-up one morning with huge deficits and the US public wonders how we got to this point.  Government laden with “good intentions” but wrong thinking.

    Then government management tells us “not to worry” as we can use technology, shared services and outsourcing to reduce costs.  Where the reality is these things almost always increase costs as a good work design and different management thinking would have been a better path.  Instead government management locks-in waste through poor work design and we all pay because of it.

    As the size of government continues to grow and the deficits get bigger, we have to end the practice of creating more waste and sub-optimization.  We will never be able to prevent bad things from happening in every non-life-threatening situation, but we can be smart about better work designs and thinking around the management of work.  All this mania will be the United States demise in similar fashion to the Soviet Union trying to keep up in the arms race . . . except we will have done it to ourselves.

    Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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    Where Does Your Front-Line Focus?

    The point of transaction is that spot where your customers derive value from service organizations and government.  Simple enough, but that person that they come in contact with is typically not the owner, CEO or executive.  In fact it isn’t usually the manager or supervisor . . . it is the front-line worker.
    All those in supporting or management roles are typically the ones making life “easier” for the front-line through technology, scripts, rules, procedures, targets, best practices, coaching and other nonsensical “help.”  After all, the work has to be managed as do the people along with it.  The management paradox is that all these things lead to an entrapping and dismal work environment.  Worse, this makes costs increase and service poor.

    While targets become the defacto purpose (over serving the customer).  Best practices, rules, scripts and procedures only allow the front-line to check their brains at the door.  Coaching and technology is thrust upon them by people that know little about the work that is being executed . . . after all these are the smarter people. 

    A front-line worker has a choice either serve the master that pays them or serve the customer that pays the master.  Choose one. 

    So where does your front-line focus?  A better leadership strategy should begin with finding out.

     Leave me a comment. . . share your opinion!  Click on comments below.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at  Reach him on Twitter at or LinkedIn at

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    The Paradox of Susan Boyle

    How do you not blog about this woman.  Everyone should have seen this by now  We need more stories like this to remove the cynicism of the world.  The paradox of Susan Boyle is somewhat of an enigma.  She is a new chapter to be written.  I can not help but believe that these types of jolts to our individual systems can only have a positive impact on the broader systems.

    It makes me wonder if the management paradox we face in scientific management theory and command and control thinking vs. systems thinking could have the same impact for business.  For me, I believe it can.  This will require people to not be cynical and open their minds to systems thinking.  It is not what we were taught or our belief systems to believe.  The counter-intuitive nature of the thinking of W. Edwards Deming, and Taiichi Ohno require a shock to our belief system, but as Susan Boyle has shown us the sound can be beautiful.

    Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  He is focused on exposing the problems of command and control management and the termination of bad service through application of new thinking . . . systems thinking.  Download free Understanding Your Organization as a System and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at  Reach him on Twitter at

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    50th Blog: My Personal Manifesto

    One of my favorite movies is Biloxi Blues not so much for the film, but it gave me a tag line for my life purpose.  “Don’t ever compromise your principles or you become a candidate for mediocrity” as spoken by Arnold B. Epstein.  There have been many opportunities to “pack it in” and not follow the path less traveled, but someone has to stand up and say there is a better way, when there is.  Frustration in getting to change people’s paradigms goes with the territory.

    I without doubt believe that Dr. W. Edwards Deming felt that same frustration after WWII when he had been so successful during the war effort improving manufacturing.  The decimation of Europe during WWII  left the world only one place to go for their goods . . . the US.  So the mantra became give the world what they want as fast as we can, not as well as we can.  The principles of Frederick Winslow Taylor (scientific management theory) were followed here in the US and things went well.  Until Dr. Deming was invited to Japan to help rebuild.  This culminated in the Japanese Industrial Miracle and Japan’s rise in the automotive world and the decline of Ford, Chrysler and GM in the 70s.  Now Dr. Deming was invited back to the US to help save the manufacturers in the US.  In Out of the Crisis he would write about 14 Points and 7 Deadly diseases for the transformation of industry.  Later in The New Economics he boiled these points down to his System of Profound Knowledge (Appreciation for a System, Theory of Variation, Theory of Knowledge and Psychology).  Except for the “tools” the fundamental philosophy has been rejected as Dr. Deming called for such things as abolishing performance ratings, inspection, incentives and bonuses.  All ideas rejected by US industry today.

    We (the US) never changed our thinking about scientific management theory and we still have the notion that organizational change management has something to do with “tools” found in Lean, Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma (I have been down these paths they will bring some improvement, but not to the level in which systems thinking will).  I commend him for this simple yet profound find and his ability to work with service organizations to make a huge transformation for companies that are curious for a better way.

    For me, I will continue to correct wrong thinking (command and control) that continues to paralyze service industry and stifle private and public sector innovation.  Instead, there is a better method a “systems thinking” one.  Proven over and over again to be better and more profitable than command and control thinking.  Won’t you join me?


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    Government Efficiency: It Doesn't have to be an Oxymoron

    This blog title is truly bi-partisan.  I am not posting for or against any political view, but to agree that services could actually be distributed for the greater cause.  I have worked in state and federal governments as a contractor and an employee.  There is no shortage of waste in the provisioning and outsourcing of government services.

    Government management in agencies that I have worked with were consumed with the following types of issues:

    • How much money could the agency get.
    • How much did it spend.
    • How the agency could get more funding.
    • How does the agency avoid (unwanted) attention.

    Unfortunately, at the government management level there was limited discussion of how well the services were being provisioned, unless the agency received “unwanted” attention (bullet #4).  When there was unwanted attention there was usually some knee-jerk reaction to fix the issue, or a previous administration, vendor or person to blame.  Sometimes the media or interest group with an issue got the facts wrong and those were easy to defend.  Rarely was the conversation about how well a service was executed.

    The four bullet points above became the de facto purpose of the agency.  To be good stewards of the taxpayers money the purpose should have been related to how well the services were provided.  As in the private sector, the public sector believes that the provisioning of services is a zero-sum game, where costs increase as service improves.  The management paradox here is that costs actually go down as service improves.

    I have seen a movement in recent years to manage the costs like a business.  The focus on the management of costs will always increase them.  I am not saying we shouldn’t know the financial score . . . we should.  What I am saying is that the total costs go down as service improves.  A systems thinking service organization (private or public sector)understands these differences.

    To find out more on systems thinking go

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    Interview with a Reporter

    I am being interviewed for an article today.  I thought I would blog the questions and my response for preparation.  Here are the questions we will discuss and my corresponding answers:

    Q1:  What are the business issues that typically drive companies to set up call centers?

    A1:  Costs – The idea is all work on telephones should be handled in one place to get economies of scale.
    Improve Service – However, this is typically translated to mean “standardized service.”  Standardizing service makes service worst (not better) because the system is not capable of absorbing the variety of demand that customers receive in service.  Creating a management paradox:  Failure demand increases (meaning customers have to keep calling to get what they want).

    Q2:  What types of mistaken assumptions or arguments do you see used in justifying this move?

    A2:  3 Big Mistakes

    1. Treating all works as units of production (like manufacturing).  This means we don’t distinguish between demand we want (value demand) and demand we don’t want (failure demand).  Failure demand in call centers runs from 25% to 75% (sometimes higher).
    2. Believing workers can be held accountable for the work they do, when the system (work design, technology, management, measures, etc.) is responsible for 95% of the variation in performance and only 5% is attributable to an individual.
    3. Managers act in ways that inhibit the systems ability to absorb variety (e.g., scripts, adherence, quality monitoring, AHT, etc.)

    Q3:  What are the pros and cons of serving customers via a call center in your view?

    A3:  Thinking from a customer point of view . . . If you design the call center to provide service the customer will love it and that is wholly a different approach then sending calls to get economies of scale.  To achieve this an organization has to ignore the standard call center mantra of AHT, GOS, etc. and instead learn how to serve customers at the first point of contact.  It means making the call center agents “smarter” not dumbing them down with technology and scripts.  Only people can absorb the variety of demand in service.

    Q4:  What are the most common mistakes made in the way call centers are set up?

    A4:  See Q4 above and . . .

    Work design – Treating all demand as work and managing the call center as a separate function instead of part of the system.  Customers view their demands end-to-end . . . organizations do not.

    Outsourcing the organizations failure demand or not accounting for an organizations failure demand – Why pay to have failure demand as part of your outsourcing strategy and why keep having failure demand at your call center if you keep it in-house.

    Q5:  What should businesses being doing instead?

    A5:  Understanding the nature of demand on their system (the type and frequency of demand and the value and failure of that demand).

    Designing roles to create value and providing training on demand to increase one-stop resolution or increase flow by optimizing the value work and eliminating waste.

    Redesigning the role of call center management to act on the system rather than the worker.  This will require redesigning our leadership strategy and development.

    In two words . . . Systems Thinking.

    Add lib question from the reporter:  Do you believe you are “spitting in the wind?”
    Maybe . . . but if I am unsuccessful where do I work?  The US doesn’t manufacture much anymore, because we didn’t listen to Deming after WWII.  If service is poor, what is left?

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