OK, so not everything in business has to be about innovation, creativity and 'thinking outside the box'. Sometimes rigid processes and rules are really useful for both the organisation and the customer. This wasn’t one of those times.
If you want your business to be efficient and streamlined, give your staff processes and procedures. If, on the other hand, you want your people to be innovative and creative in how they solve problems and create customers who are raving fans, tell them when it’s ok to not follow them.
It seemed so simple. I'd ordered a new phone from Optus and begrudgingly accepted that I'd have to be at home to accept delivery - still, an eight hour window is only a third of a day, right? Luckily delivery would take place on the one day for several weeks where being at home was no major imposition - the planets truly had aligned, or so it seemed. Except Optus managed to get my address wrong on the consignment note and so now, according to the call centre agent, my options were rather limited - completely rejig my diary, and that of several clients, in order to be at home for yet another day. Tempting but no thanks.
The detached voice in the contact centre claimed to understand my problem and pledged to do all she could to fix my problem. Lucky me! I envisioned a crack team of couriers leaping into action just to deliver a brand spanking new iPhone before the day was out to an overgrown child who loves gadgets. Except a few seconds later it became clear that my salvation would come at a price - yes, she would track my original order down, re-enter the address and send it to me. In a few days time. Oh, and could I spend all day at home again because they couldn't specify a delivery time because their system didn't work like that and the policy was clear - the account holder had to sign for delivery.
Just as I was inwardly sighing and resigning myself to having to fit in with their rules I remembered a talk I'd attended some months earlier by a social media expert on the topic of customer feedback. I had nothing to lose and at least I could have a public audience for my rising frustration! I distilled the essence of my challenge into the requisite 160 characters or less - a useful exercise in any case - and let fly in the direction of @Optus, more in desperation than hope. If nothing else, at least maybe the twitterverse would listen! Two minutes later, I was locked in conversation with Tom, a member of the Optus Social Media team.
In a handful of sentences, all shorter than 160 characters, he understood the essence of my problem, the constraints I was under and what a successful outcome looked like to me - a new phone in my possession the next day without spending another day sitting at home waiting for it. And, like a true superhero, without even breaking sweat, he fixed my problem. Would it be ok, he asked, if we arranged for you to pick one up from a store near you? If it meant me not having to wait at home all day, I replied, too damned right it would be ok. "Leave it with me. Someone will call you first thing tomorrow" he tweeted and he was gone, off into the ether to work more miracles.
Even now, without a shiny new phone in my hand, I felt as if someone was actually listening to me and, more importantly, someone with the impulse, authority and connections to MAKE STUFF HAPPEN! Shortly after 10am the next day I got the result I’d been asking, and hoping, for - a call to tell me that my new phone was waiting for me at my local Optus shop - a whopping 5 minute drive away - and I could pop in at my convenience to pick it up. All the administrivia was sorted and I simply had to turn up, mumble my name and scratch my autograph on a piece of paper and the drama would be at an end. I felt I was in the presence of a force not of this world. In a single bound the Social Media Team had leapt over an entire contact centre!
Anyone in business, especially one with a high volume of repetitive transactions, knows that tactical efficiency on the ground is gained, in part at least, with robust processes and procedures. To reinvent the wheel every time is simply wasteful for a large proportion of transactions, especially when we, the client, want everything NOW! And we generally want it cheap too. But what about the small proportion of transactions that are a bit out of the ordinary? They're the ones that get talked about, unfortunately. After all, when you go to a dinner party, which story are you likely to tell? The one about the slick, efficient sale that required no effort on your part or the endless hours spent trying to persuade a call centre automaton to see the world from your, the customers, perspective?
Your business needs sound, efficient and repeatable processes if it's to be cost-effective. And people need to follow them - they're pointless otherwise and chaos isn't an experience many clients value. But there comes a time when blind adherence to the process no longer serves the ultimate purpose of the company which is, or should be, to create a valuable experience for the customer - one they would willingly repeat, recommend and refer to others.
As the Dalai Lama once said - “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively”
I made a point of speaking to Tina and her colleague Scott who made the impossible seem like something they did every day and apparently that's pretty much their job description. They're carefully selected from all over the business, trained well and, most importantly, given the authority they require to transcend silos and divisions within the company with a clear remit - make the clients experience a valuable one. And they're bloody good at it.
Something else struck me during the conversation - they really love their work!
How do you help your staff to make the decision when to break the rules?