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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ever Been Stuck on an Escalator?

Click on the play button below for an example of what I mean: 

I know this little scenario may seem totally ridiculous to you...but I'll bet, at least metaphorically, we've all been 'stuck on an escalator' at some point in time... and some of us may be stuck on one right now. 

Here's why:

In business, and in life, we often associate and apply rules, policies and processes to situations for which they they were not intended... and sometimes, they are just as silly as the ones being applied by the two people in this video.

Take for example;
  • the Customer Service Rep who refuses to allow the return of a minor purchase by a long time loyal customer citing some obscure or ill-conceived detail in the return policy as rational;  
  • the support department that, before it acts, refers virtually every decision, big or small, to the legal department just because of a single and somewhat obscure incident that happened years ago; 
  • the bank that asks a customer they have been dealing with for years, to fill out a pile of forms and jump through multiple security hoops to open a  new deposit account... notwithstanding the fact that it's the customer entrusting their money with the bank, not the other way around; 
  • or my personal favorite, the complaint department that with every call, is more concerned about finding out who was at fault and why, than what it is going to take to put things right... and keep the customer!
In fairness, management may have had all good intentions when the policies and processes driving these actions were developed, and probably never imagined they would be applied in situations where they would do far more harm than good. But nevertheless, they often are... even by equally well meaning employees!

Maybe it's time we all asked ourselves, "Do the rules, policies and processes I create, live and/or work by make sense?" If not, we may well find ourselves stuck on an escalator, or causing others that same fate.

The good news is, it only takes a little common sense to figure out how to get off an escalator. So perhaps the better question is: How do we make common sense common practice?

Any suggestions?

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  1. I think this is in part a product of so much emphasis being placed on learning and following corporate policies and leaving the customer service aspect part of it to common sense. The problem is that the people creating these policies get so caught up in the details and legal aspects that they lose touch with the common sense which they expect their employees to possess. Lower level employees, who are often expected to follow the policies handed down without question, would rather follow the "rules" then risk exercising their own common sense and facing their superiors for their non-compliance. Often times the ability to resolve the problem using common sense is there, it just isn't being utilized as it is safer or easier to refer to policy.

    My suggestion would be to involve all levels of employees in the policy creation and review process. Often policies are created by people who have never actually done the job they are creating the policy for. Invite constructive criticism from those who do the job and ensure the people who create the policy have at least some exposure to the operational level. Another idea would be to conduct focus groups or surveys with those who will be affected by the policies that are under consideration. Find out how the policies make the customer feel. This too could put things in check and bring common sense into the equation.

  2. Another good one. Hope the Bank that you cited was not HSBC. Probably could be in UK!

    Keep 'em coming.


  3. I love the Stuck on the Elevator clip.


  4. Thats fantastic! I would love to be on the mailing list.


  5. I love the escalator video ... it so speaks to the fact that we are so programmed today that we don't think for ourselves when put into a "situation". Your examples are so true ... so often the customer service person is in robot mode, or afraid to make an 'out of the box" decision ... when the customer is put through unnecessary hoops.
    Great blog Jim.

  6. That is really funny, until you start thinking about the brick walls we all have to deal with !!


  7. Great article and love the video!

    I think the first person to comment hit the nail on the head. Often policies are created by people so far removed from the customer (and often the real world) that it is no wonder they don't make any sense. Including employees and customers in the process and encouraging them to challenge up has got to be the way to go.


  8. I read your latest Wavemaker blog with a grin. You have a knack for finding and presenting irony!