Tag Archives: entrapping technology

Labor Day Reflection

English: American Federation of Labor charter ...

English: American Federation of Labor charter for the Cigar Makers International Union of America, 1919. Published in American Federation of Labor: History, Encyclopedia, Reference Book, photo plate between pages 48 and 49. Published by the American Federation of Labor, 1919. Published in USA prior to 1923, public domain. Digitized by Tim Davenport for Wikipedia, no copyright claimed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first Labor day in the US was celebrated September 5, 1882.  A “Workingmen’s Holiday” as it was called.

Living in Indianapolis, you run into Labor Unions that have slowly but progressively disappeared.  Sure, you still have the Teacher’s Unions and many others but workers in Unions represent about 11.8% of all wage ans salary workers.  This number has dropped over the years.

Yet, even with this small percentage the unions are often a target and sometimes these fights affect the average worker – union or not.  Having grown up in a family that despised unions, it was a long time coming before I realized that this inclination spilled over into laborers in general.  So, like most, I went to college to “be better than that.”

However, when you look at the engine that makes things run it is truly more the workers.  Don’t get me wrong, I love what Steve Jobs did to make my life easier and no doubt he was handsomely rewarded.  But Jobs and others are a rarity.  Most people don’t aspire or care to achieve  or just stating a plain fact – 99.999 % of us never will.

I don’t mind the Steve Jobs of the world getting their due.  Yet, most CEOs today did not build the companies the lead.  Some were genetic marvels where the business was handed to them.  Others came up through the hierarchy and achieved leadership positions, a combination of education, good fortune and occasionally savvy.

The salaries these folks command and the disparity to workers has come under increasing scrutiny.  The ration was 24-1 and now is a whopping 243 -1 according to a 2010 survey.  The fact is that such disparity is sometimes deserved, but more often it is not.  Yet, unions and the worker have come under more scrutiny than CEOs, unless of course . . . you break the law.

The US has become a swinging pendulum between too much labor or too much management.  The strength of labor unions was considered to be socialistic or even communist.  However, many were not necessarily out for power, they just wanted better working conditions or fair wages and benefits.  Some perceive this to be an entitlement issue.  If you work your whole life and don’t have enough to retire was it just the choice of the worker or does the company have an obligation?  Nowadays that argument has been settled as defined contribution plans have replace defined benefit plans.  Retirement is clearly an individual responsibility in the US and the problems with Social Security make it more so.

W. Edwards Deming marked the decline of the US starting in 1968.  Some blame unions and some blame management.  Dr. Deming placed the blame on US management.  From what I have seen in service and manufacturing, I agree.  Many countries have unions and are beating are heads despite the “handicap.”  We just haven’t gotten better as labor and management have found so few areas to connect on – something that has to stop.

The work designs in service organizations lend to depressing cultures and worker discontent.  Workers trapped in these designs and than wrapped into them with information technology.  Better designs mean better profits and a more motivated workforce.  Isn’t this really good for all, if we forget the labels?

Labor day gives us a chance to reflect on the year ahead.  Different and better thinking may be worth exploring.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Information Technology in a Functionally Separated World

It’s like a kick in the head . . . every time I walk into a service organization and have a look at their operations- by performing “check” – I am left with the same sense of disbelief as the previous service organization.  Front-line staff left with no hope of delivering service from entrapping technology.  No one considered the customer or felt any need to supply an IT “solution” that was cost effective end-to-end.

Blame can rest with both the service organization and the IT provider.  However, the service organization can change the game by actually designing services that focus their attention on the customer and what matters to them.  IT will be forced to follow when you provide systemic solutions.  The beauty of this is that it results in less IT spend and happier customers which translates to lower total costs.

Contrast this to the functionally separated organizations that must do process improvement and IT with cross-functionally groups.  Starting here puts service organizations behind by trying to coddle the silos of organizations.  This makes them slow to move and expensive.

Yet, we still have front offices and back offices, separated departments in organizations and the like.  The hope is that optimizing the pieces will result in improvement . . . it never does, no matter what kind of leader their is leading a silo.

Information technology will enable no organization until it comes to grips with the functional separation of work in service orgs.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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2012 Global Customer Service Barometer

I am not much for surveys these days, but I ran across the 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer prepared for American Express by Echo.  The best way to find out how you are performing is to actually know before the customer hangs up.  Because, once the call is over the opportunity has passed to provide service – one reason I am not a fan of customer satisfaction surveys (another is that surveys rarely ask questions “that matter” to customers).

Some things that stood out for me in the survey:

  • Customers are not seeing much change in customer service.
  • Businesses are more likely to miss your expectations than exceed them.
  • Customers will pay more for customer service.
  • Consumers expect excellent customer service and don’t expect to pay more for it.
  • Consumers are likely to tell 8 or more people about their excellent service.
  • Consumers are likely to tell 11 or more people about their poor experience.
  • Consumers prefer to speak to real person either by phone or face-to-face.

As anyone can see from the survey, consumers want good service.  Just so few deliver it.  Why is this?

Many organizations view customer service as a zero-sum game, where the belief is that good service costs more.  This is not true, great customer service costs less.

This also means if customers want to talk to a real person, it will be less expensive than that expensive IVR and voice system you just bought to save money.  I have often found these technologies entrap the customer and workers – increasing costs.

There are some numbers more nebulous than others.  For instance, knowing how many customers say good and bad things is a very difficult number to know for your service.  However, failure demand  is something to sink your teeth into.  When customers place demands on your customer service people that are failures it is very expensive.  Worse, is the amount of failure demand hitting contact centers or other service workers.  It is typically between 25 and 75%.  That is the bad news, the good news is that in most service organizations it can be designed out.

A better service design also requires better management thinking about how to manage the work.  Activity measures like AHT and service levels are the wrong measures.  They play to the zero-sum game, failure demand measurement is a whole different game.  To deliver better service, we have to reduce failure demand that reduces costs too.

There are other measures that are important too.  These may be end-to-end measures derived from “what matters” to customers.  These require others outside the customer service arena to support making a design that meets the demands of customers.

No matter what the survey says, it can not replace getting knowledge about that what and why of current performance of your organization.  Learning about customer purpose, types of demand (value/failure) and the flow of the work will help you understand about the assumptions associated with design and management of work.

Come hear me speak at the CAST conference in San Jose, California!  Re-Thinking Management . . . Re-Thinking . . . IT!

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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GM and the “Frozen Middle” – What We Can Learn

Interesting article in the WSJ today called, GM Chief Labors to Get Rebuilt Carmaker into Gear which outlines some of GMs difficulties.  There is a little bit of everything:

  • Functional separation of work leading to in-fighting
  • Outsourcing
  • Performance rewards that cause internal competition
  • The bureaucracy created by those in support functions
  • Economies of scale thinking

All of the above perpetuate the problems of GM.  Economy of scale thinking has long been replaced by economies of flow.  Remember the US had all the scale after WWII and lost manufacturing to a country with little or no natural resources or scale – Japan.  The scale thinking has to go, before the country does.

However, I see more of the “frozen middle” than anything.  Support functions and middle management that stagnate whole organizations.  They are people that cannot say “yes” and add costs and bureaucracy to organizations.  Like a boat anchor to ships these folks eat resources and ruin whole financial budgets.  The need to get these folks jobs that create value or enable those that create is a daunting task.  Most people in non-value adding roles see themselves as adding value and often so do the executives that put them there.

So, the frozen middle remains frozen.  Incapable of creating value and there unintentionally to thwart innovation and invent hoops for those that can create value to jump through like policies, entrapping technology, standardization, rules, etc.  The problem with the frozen middle is irony.  It is ironic that it freezes progress, but as the dysfunction grows so does the middle expand its activities.  Organizations intending to reduce costs, increase them as they add more folks to the middle ranks.

GM is not unique in this problem.  All organizations have a frozen middle, they are there to make things run smoothly.  However, counter-intuitively they make things much worse.

Come hear me speak at the CAST conference in San Jose, California!  Re-Thinking Management . . . Re-Thinking . . . IT!

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Does Deming’s 95/5 Discount the Individual?

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Still the most talked about and controversial of W. Edwards Deming thinking is what I reference as the 95/5 rule – that 95% of the performance of an organization is down to the system and not the individual.  It isn’t a rule and, as I have stated in previous posts, it is not empirical.  Dr. Joseph Juran though the number was 85/15 and based on Dr. Deming’s experience the number was thought to be 95/5.

So, does this mean that the individual is not important?  NO!

The design and thinking about the management of work is so poor in service organizations that the individual is rendered completely irrelevant.  The individual worker gets entrapping technology forced upon them.  The work is functionally separated where the worker can never finish a piece of work and the result is no accountability.  Improving the system restores the individual.

Dr. Deming’s central theme is restoration of the individual.  Fear, competition, manipulation and performance appraisals that result in ratings organizations have undermined the individual.

W. Edwards Deming believed some really simple things for workers:

  • Joy in Work
  • Cooperation
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Systems Thinking
  • Self-Esteem
  • Never-ending Learning

He implored us to adopt new thinking for a new economic age.  When do we get to see this happen?

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the The 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Jet2.com – This is One Airline to Avoid

Boeing 757-200 takes off at Manchester Airport

Boeing 757-200 takes off at Manchester Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Airlines have generally been poor performers in the customer experience.  Pretty much every airline can not get it right.  I was going on a trip to Portugal and found Jet2.com and thought, “OK, budget airline . . . how much worse could it be?”  The answer is somewhere between a lot and criminal.

The website showed the really low fares, but there are fees for just about everything from breakfast, luggage and my personal favorite  . . . checking in on-line.  You see if you fail to check in on-line you have to pay about $27 for the privilege.  I had forgotten this and although I thought $27 was a bit steep, I paid it.

However, while I was waiting to pay a couple in front of me had tried to check-in on-line and the check-in failed.  I listened to the story as they spoke to a manager about the on-line issue.  The manager asked if they had written the error message and error code down (who would think to do that?).  Because the couple had failed to write down these two important pieces of information, they were out over $55 – at least if they wanted to travel that day.  I thought to myself, “who would think it is intuitive to write the error message down, besides shouldn’t the website working be the responsibility of Jet2.com?”

I made a mental note to be sure to work out something with the front desk at the hotel to print my return ticket.  When the day before leaving arrived, I went to work to “check-in” for the flight the next day.  The website asked for a series of passport information.  You have to select your country of issue (for the passport) and what country you lived in – both are the USA.  The first drop down menu had USA, but the second one did not have “USA” as a country to select.  Entrapping technology for customers is a huge problem in service, everyone wants to send customers to cheaper channels – they rarely become cheaper when you look end-to-end.  Variety in service demand sees to that.

When I arrived at the Portugal airport the next day, I knew that I would be blamed somehow for the website snafu, I just wasn’t sure how – so, I played it out.  The check-in desk told me I would have to go to a different desk to pay or plead my case.  Two other families were already there because the had hit the wrong airport during check-in and the other was confused about the selection – both wound up having to pay.

My turn, I explained to the agent about the drop down menu missing “USA” and the response was even more egregious than I had expected,  “We have had USA residents check-in on line before and they had no problem.”

Seriously!  This is a response that has nothing to do with MY problem – are you kidding?  I implored her to look on the website and see for herself, but she would have none of it.  I paid my (close to) $30 this time and decided to use the power of the internet to exact retribution.

The issue to me is that this airline can not or should not survive.  Allowing such poor service and getting away with it needs a public verdict or at least disclosure.  With all the failure demand coming into the desk at Jet2.com, it will eventually collapse under its own cost structure – it requires people to deal with these problems even if they get paid.  Add in the number of people that will swear never to fly them again and they will not last.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Connecting the “IT” Dots

Information technology has become like one of those “connect the dots” workbooks I got as a child to keep me busy and not bother the adults.  Except, this book has no numbers . . . just the dots.  Makes it more difficult to connect to make a meaningful picture.

However, this is the world of IT.  Sell or solve a solution to an organizational function that doesn’t understand the root cause of what they are trying to fix.  Doesn’t matter whether the dots connect into a coherent picture, it depends on your view.  Like the optical illusion of whether you see the old or young lady.  I see only the old hag when I see IT.

The pursuit of answers require systemic solutions.  Yet, what I see in organizations are a mismatch of unconnected dots that secure the wasteful designs they are supposed to enable.  IT is like duct tape for organizations.  The functions and work design weren’t optimal to begin with and IT manages to entrap and disable the mess even more, resulting in additional waste and complexity.

Designing exceptional performing organizations doesn’t need IT to lead.  The dots must have numbers and a coherent picture has to emerge before IT can be pulled in and enable the work design.  Otherwise, we just have a bunch of dots.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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No Big Surprise – Another Over-Budget IT Project

English: The Seal of the United States Federal...

Image via Wikipedia

Public sector, private sector . . . it really doesn’t make much difference.  The continuing saga of IT projects that run beyond their budget and don’t deliver continues to grow.  Maybe we should be asking what IT initiated project actually ever works.  I have seen claims of improvement, but it is like a football replay – upon further review I have yet to see an IT victory.

Go to an IT vendor website and you would have to believe the opposite were true.  Sorry Charlie . . . but that’s a can of sucker you are reading about on these sites.  Procurers need to be asking for evidence and this is something not promoted in marketing-speak.  A little research will tell you otherwise and don’t trust other fools that have had their share of gullible pie.

You need to go to the work and see the effect on the design and flow of the work.  Management to management communications are full of assumptions and not fact.  And please don’t trust the IT salesperson, they are paid to embellish . . . can you say lipstick on a pig?

The latest is the cost over-run is with the FBI.  This one was originally be slated for 2009 to be ready.  The inspector general found “deficiencies” in the program.  Oh, and the FBI may go over the $451 million budget.  Noooo, really?

IT vendors love to use the favorite words like antiquated, modernization, automation and even sophistication to sell their wares, so be weary.  Any IT pushed on organizations is a dead end.  Your system is unique in customers, design, management etc. and need solutions unique to enabling the work of YOUR organization.  Customization to get what you need that works is better than a cheap solution standardized by what others believe is best.  Common sense?  Yes, it should be, but it is rarely present

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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The Oops Factor

State Seal of Indiana.

Image via Wikipedia

Reading Governor Mitch Daniel’s book, Keeping the Republic, he mentions the Indiana Welfare Eligibility modernization.  This modernization was a ten-year deal worth $1.3 billion to IBM and its partners.  It is an important story for all of government because everyone has the same mindset.

This mindset is characterized by anecdotal evidence to support an ideology.  In this case, privatization.  The old welfare system was labeled as the nation’s worst according to the US Department of Health and Human Services back in 2005 – these are the same bureaucrats that Governor Daniels laments about earlier in the book.  The system was rife with error, delays, fraud and unhappy people with the status quo.

Further, the welfare offices were described in the book as “a chaotic mess.  Antique, green-screen computers from the 1970s sat amid the floor-to-ceiling stacks of boxes stuffed with paper.  I asked our researchers to take pictures.  Otherwise, I knew no one would believe later how bad the system was.”

This is the death sentence for governments assuming old manual systems with old technology is always bad.  Government management has embraced modernization because it doesn’t feel “modern.”  However, the old systems are never evaluated for flow or knowledge, just that things looked old.  This is the mentality that wastes taxpayers billions of dollars.  IBM and others wait like wolves ready to pounce on the gullible and naive.

Governor Daniel’s calls the attempt an “oops.”   The re-engineering to modernize and privatize the welfare system wasn’t begun with knowledge but ideology and assumption.  When ideology and assumption are in the decision-making costs increase and service worsens.  Politics has a hard time separating reality from fantasy.  Evidence without preconceived notions is always best.

Modernization and privatization – which I am not against – really need to begin with knowledge of the systems we are trying to improve.  Governor Daniels does not challenge the back office design when describing the improvement effort, yet, here is a huge opportunity for improvement.  Most believe in the front-back office design that handicaps the design of work.  Different thinking and better method are required to improve work.

Governor Daniels has brought fiscal discipline to Indiana, but fiscal discipline by itself is doing the wrong thing, righter.  Indiana and other government entities can find dramatic improvement (another 30-70%)  from changing the thinking about the design and management of work.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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Software Scope Creep

In years past, I consulted with a large information technology company in the banking industry.  No hotter topic in a software development organization than scope creep.    Management was constantly trying to either limit scope creep or charge for it.  Better requirements were demanded or tighter contracts -addressing the symptom won’t stop the cause.

I decided to write on this topic because my recent Quality Digest article, The Information Technology Conundrum was critiqued on their weekly talk show Quality Digest Live! The moderators pointed out that IT projects were failing – as pointed out in my article – because of scope creep.  No, the reason is because the design of the work was flawed before the project was even conceived.  The project should never have even started.

Scope creep is smoke, but the real fire is work design and management thinking.

Fixing scope creep is like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.  The ship is going to go down whether the chairs are moved or not.  Waste begets waste.  However, don’t plan on your IT software provider sharing this with you or even understanding the problem.  It is much more profitable to get paid to rearrange chairs than the harder task of saving the ship.

I have seen more IT projects get launched that should never have left the port.  The ship was never sea-worthy to begin with, but launch they do with a doomed destiny already sealed.  Just remember that scope creep isn’t the problem – your thinking is and service design is a product of your thinking.

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 CustomermanagementIQ.com.  Learn more about the 95 Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbittor LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt.

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