Monday 3 December 2018

Like a Rubiks Cube

I love my job.  That might already be clear from articles that I write.

There’s good reason - every day is like solving a Rubik’s cube.  However difficult a situation is, I know there’s an answer.  The solution is right there in front of you - you just need a method to work it out.

There are 42 million million million combinations of Rubik’s cube.  But aged about 10, I was given some instructions on how to solve the puzzle.  After some learning, I was able to complete the cube in about 2 minutes.

I find solving process-flow issues in contact centres, processing centres or service systems just like solving the Rubik’s cube.  These organisation rarely involve rocket-science - most send bills, fix customer queries, chase money - but many I see have tied themselves in a knot and ended up with service in decline, backlogs forming, and the teams struggling to get on top of things.  But I always know the solution is in there somewhere.

If only there was a method to apply to solve this puzzle.

Good job that there is then:

  • What’s the purpose?
  • What is the customer demand?
  • How we are dealing with customer queries?
  • What’s stopping us dealing with issues right-first-time?
  • What are the root-cause issues?
  • Why is the customer unhappy?
  • Why are there backlogs?
  • How many times is the customer contacting us?
  • How many touches are there to resolve the customer issue?
  • Who’s measuring the backlogs?
  • What does the backlog look like?
  • How long does it take to resolve the issues?

And of course, don’t forgot the people and the management:

  • Are the leaders in the work, understanding how the work works?
  • What’s stopping them doing that?
  • Are they focussing on and prioritising the customer journey?
  • Are they looking for ares of waste and rework?
  • What measures are they focussing on?

The Systems Thinking approach, when applied to the service industry, soon highlights the real issues, surfaces where the waste work is being undertaken, and where rework and unnecessary customer contact is coming in.

It’s not complicated - when you’ve got a method.

Want to know more:
 - about Matt Arnold
 - give me a call on 07775 595 595
 - email on

Friday 2 November 2018

Strategic v Tactical…. or is it fundamental? Part 2

In my last article I wrote about the difference between strategic and tactical thinking with respect to large processing / contact centres, and, in my opinion, explained why I thought this was just wrong-headed. 

When a large part of the organisation is there to ensure customers are happy, it’s fundamental to ensure queries are cleared as soon as possible, or better still, avoid queries all together.

So, how do organisations get into this situation in the first place…?
  1. A lack of consideration of: purpose; the customer demand and; what they are actually there to do.  Many of my articles explain this further.
But I think other issues start to arise too.
  1. As people get promoted, from agent, to team leader, to senior, to manager etc, they get further from the work.  Many want to get further from the work - they’ve been there long enough, it’s someone else’s turn - especially if the customers aren’t happy because they’re spinning around in the waste work.

My point: as people get more senior, they need to understand the flow of work better than ever - to explore the true customer journey, looking for blockages and hot-spots - to ensure purpose is being met.

A good leader needs to understand the bigger picture AND understand the detail.  They need to understand what the customer experiences, and understand the work that such a huge and expensive resource undertakes.

I’ve seen many large scale operations where most of the work being undertaken is processed twice-over - think of the cost.  I’ve also seen organisations where the work seems to just continually spin round and round...

In a “man-in-a-van” housing repairs operation I reviewed a few years back, the director soon picked up on what I’d discovered.

On almost every visit to a customer, we were welcomed with “Hello, nice to see you again.”  “Again?” - we’d come to fix something, and someone had already been out to fix it, but failed.  A trip to the depot, picking up parts, a drive across town, have a go at fixing something - all done twice over.

When reporting this back in the board room, the director immediately understood - “have we got twice the number of men and vans we should have…?”  Possibly.  Better still, use the existing team to fix the work in a shorter time, and complete more work.  A reduced cost-per-fix, and happier customers.

If you really want to understand what your team is doing, go and review a customer journey:
  • Pick a customer on the computer system, and see how many contacts it took to complete the query.
  • Hop in a van and see what the workman actually faces as they do their work.
  • Listen to some calls, and hear what the customer says, and listen to what your staff do in response.

Was this the customer’s first contact?  Was it fixed right first time?  Could we have done better?  Could the problem be resolved all together such that no other customers repeat that journey?

Leadership is about understanding what’s really happening on the floor, and helping your team achieve great service for your customer.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Strategic v Tactical…. or is it fundamental?

Much of my work is undertaken in the service industry, and often in large processing centres where the work is done, customers phone in, problems are resolved, and often payment is chased.  In recent times, these have included utility companies, banks and councils.

I’ve had a few really interesting discussions over the last few months as to whether this work is tactical, or strategic.  

Undertaking my work, I’ll spend a fair bit of time talking to the Operations Director and/or the CEO about where the problems are, why this is happening, how we might fix it, and any changes to structure that may be required.  Equally, much time is required in the work, looking at the real detail of what is going on: the processes being followed (or not), keeping up with housekeeping / exception reports (or not), and tracking work load (or backlogs).

Ultimately, I think the strategic/tactical debate is just plain wrong.

If the organisation has a clear purpose (and many don’t), and the diagnosis is that many of the staff are not in a position to be able to complete their work (mostly it’s not their fault), then this isn’t tactical or strategic.  It’s fundamental.

At a utility company in 2017, I was reviewing an entire customer journey end-to-end.  The contact centre looked very busy, but they knew they had issues - they just couldn’t work it out.   My review found amongst other things:
  • high levels of customer query backlogs
  • manual billing processes where upstream errors had created very complicated situations for new CSAs to attempt to rectify
  • processing work that was being “interrupted” by customer queries.

I’ve seen this situation in many service centres, across many service areas.  It was like they were going round in circles.

One thing that is always guaranteed:
  • everyone was working hard
  • everyone wants to do a good job
  • there are lots of really good people working in these centres.

But, if you’re not careful, you can very easily get tied in a knot:
  • you answer a call, and begin to understand the customer issue
  • you complete the call, and begin to spend a little time resolving the problem
  • then the next customer calls (and you haven’t finished the last one)
  • you don’t get a chance to complete the first customer, who then calls back a week later
  • repeat

Taking time to resolve the root-cause, and also the root-cause so that it doesn’t happen to other customer too, is the way to lead the team into great customer satisfaction.

Sounds easy - when you know how.

I’ve seen whole contact centres do this - 100’s of people, going round in circles:
  • Meeting KPIs : average call time, number of calls a day, reasonable customer satisfaction etc.
  • But failing to complete the true task  - failing to meet purpose.

Just think of the cost:
  • 100’s of salaries paid for CSAs to go around in circles
  • unhappy customers stuck in these whirlpools of problems

Getting to the heart of these problems and lining up the work to avoid waste isn’t tactical or strategic - it’s fundamental.

Want to know mare - call me - 07775 595 595

Tuesday 3 July 2018

Changing the system to get very different results.

I’ve posted before about how small changes in the system can deliver dramatic results.  I especially like the ones where the answer isn’t where you’d expect it to be. 

One has to really study the system first:
  • what is the purpose of the operation?
  • what is the customer journey?
  • what other factors are playing out?
  • what demands are being placed on the work?

I came across a fascinating one today - one that has already significantly reduced loss of life…

A previous examples - in fact my very first blog - and I frequently re-tell the story of the bins in the fast-food store:

If you make the bin holes smaller, the tray can’t be thrown away.

Another previous example - The Lincoln Memorial issue was similar:

A small change in the system, at literally zero cost, drastically altered the outcomes.

The one I heard about today involves a story that we’ve all seen in the news over recent times - mostly in the US, frequently involving race connotations, and it’s pretty much what started The Black Lives Matter movement.

A study of the way US police officers pursue and intercept targets has shown that its the heat of the pursuit that affects decision making, potentially leading to death of the suspect.

From the BBC Inquiry podcast “Can you train people to be less prejudiced” - a change in the system of pursuit that lead to dramatic reduction in fatalities.  By taking the heat out of the situation, adding more time into the equation, and helping the officer re-assess and balance any bias they may have, has dramatically changed outcomes.

The whole podcast is worth a listen, but the key message is described from 17:01, and takes less than 2 minutes:

By changing the current ‘hot’ “foot pursuit” policy to one where they hold back, call for help, and surround the situation, the officer-involved shootings have gone down - dramatically.

And of course, there are business opportunities here too:
  • Taking the heat out of rapid decision making
  • Taking a step back and seeing the whole picture
  • Identifying potential bias situations

could lead to improved decision making and outcomes.

Tuesday 12 June 2018

FACTFULNESS by Hans Rosling

Wow - I’ve just read this book, and its quite amazing - I’d recommend it to everyone. 

You may have seen or heard Hans Rosling in TED Talks in recent years, simply explaining that our mental models of the world today are broadly wrong - very wrong.  His approach, very much like W Edwards Deming, is to look at the numbers - and with clever presentation, clearly demonstrates where the real issues are based against poverty and wealth.

Armed with great data, better decisions can then be made.  One of my favourites: when a midwife in a poor country (level 1 poverty) was asked what she most needed to do her job properly, her response was needing a torch so she wasn’t killed by a snake whilst trekking to a patient in the dark.

If you want to dive in and spend 10 minutes understanding a little more, here’s their test, and see how you score on world poverty, health and wealth:

Their main website:

The book:

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Some businesses are 14 times better than others

As many of you may know, I’ve worked in quite a few Local Authority Housing Benefit departments - these teams provide benefits to vulnerable adults to assist with rent and council tax payments if they are on low incomes.  Not only is there usually ample scope for improvement, it also means those that need the money get it sooner.

I continue to do research on the national figures, and they’re interesting reading - the difference in performance is far larger than you might expect:
 - some councils undertake their claims in an average of 4 days,
 - other take as long as 57 days, and
 - over 200 councils take longer than 20 days.

So, some councils are 14 times better than others.

In the past, I helped one council enable them to pay half of their claims in less than one hour - it can be done - it’s better customer service, and considerably cheaper.

Why is this important?

  1. It’s much better customer service, the customer makes less contact, and they get their issues resolved more quickly
  2. It’s cheaper for the business because everything gets completed sooner, and
  3. The staff love it because they get a chance to resolve customer issues properly.

Example: If you had financial difficulties, how often would you chase your payments? - once a week?  In the examples above, one council would be receive no chasing telephone calls, whilst another might be receiving as many as eight chasing calls, ie one business needs a large call centre, the other doesn’t.

Example: again, in the examples above, one council would be drowning in a sea of claims paper work that I estimate at over 1000 claim files, the other would have approximately 20 files as work-in-progress.  So, one council would need a large and expensive document imaging system, the other, possibly a shelf?

But this doesn’t just happen in the public sector - they’re the ones that are brave enough (or instructed to) provide consistent figures so that consultants like me to can undertake some comparative analysis.

It happens in businesses too - I see it regularly.  Whether its on-line gambling, electricity or engineering (all recent assignments) I see situations where:
 - purpose has been forgotten
 - the same predictable issues occur time again
 - there is little attention to understanding root cause
 - the work flow has not been understood from the customers’ perspective, and
 - there’s failure to truly design the process based on what is actually required.

Examples I’ve seen lately:
 - sending engineers to site with incorrect or out-of-date drawings meaning that they can’t complete the work
 - not sending out bills because of blockages upstream in the process, causing problems in customer services and credit control
 - not being able to see the underlying “production line” of work flow, resulting in ineffective controls of highly regulated areas of the business.

This isn’t just about some changes to the tactical plans of the business, it’s fundamental to the strategy of the leadership agenda.  It’s not just a process thing - it’s at the very heart of what a business is there to do.  In all of my recent assignments, the benefits to the customer journey, the staff, and the bottom line have been significant.