Systems or service? (What about systems FOR service)

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Are you doing things because you've "always" done them. Maybe you should build systems to review your systems, then.

Michael Stone has written a provocative newsletter, where he describes a horrendous experience at his local bank.

We got in line behind six or seven others. The bank had stations for four tellers, but only one was occupied; you could see the one teller was frustrated. She was doing her best, but the line was just getting longer. It didn’t help that the customer she was with was difficult

There were four other bank employees behind the same counter. Two were involved in a personal conversation, laughing and talking up a storm. Another was on the phone and didn’t look at those of us in line. The fourth was busy filling in some charts and counting money. A manager, across the lobby at her desk, occasionally glanced at the line and at her employees, then returned to her paperwork. No one lifted a finger to help those of us waiting.

We finally got out the door and headed for our car. On the way I explained to my daughter that in a service business, the customer’s needs come before the business. The customer is the reason they are in business, and always gets their best effort.

In a systems company, the customer is someone they deal with when they run out of other things to do.

I asked, “Nadine, would you call this bank a service bank or a systems bank?” Without batting an eyelash she replied, “That’s easy, Papa, they are a systems bank.” Nine years old and she pegged the bank exactly right.

As I read that, I thought about another type of banking experience (at TD Canada Trust). It was fascinating to see how things worked when the line started getting long. Teller windows started opening. Managers came from the back and started working. The only concern I had was the line was moving so well that it was getting short and I feared, as I got to the front, that the bank’s “response system” would determine that the line is short enough that employees could get back to their regular jobs — but I think all the clients still appreciated that the bean counters, at least at this bank, had figured out how to manage their client response systems.

Stone of course is right in reminding us that systems and processes can degenerate into administrative bureaucracy.

A systems attitude starts with the owner or manager of a company. In a systems company, you follow company rules and do the paperwork first, making sure every “t” is crossed, and every “i” is dotted. All paperwork and forms must be current, correct and filled out, and everything is to be neat and tidy at all times. Never let the customer get in the way of filling out forms, talking to someone on the phone, taking a break, or heading for the door promptly at quitting time.

But I would advocate that good systems can free businesses from the bureaucracy, empower employees to serve clients and enhance the client service experience. So, yes, set and engineer your systems — but be sure they induce genuine client (and employee) satisfaction.

PS: This blog entry is late today in part because of a systems breakdown at our own business. I currently have responsibilities for managing our company’s email newsletters, websites and IT (like I am really an expert on any of these things!). There was a vexing breakdown in our email management server; dirt cheap and generally quite reliable. I haven’t solved the problem yet but have spent long hours delving into the interior workings of our server, at the expense, I fear, of other important tasks.

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