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How to mess up your company

As a consultant, I have seen a lot of things I would call management errors. Although I often visit a company to work with their image and work management system, some of the "errors" go far beyond the image systems - apply across the whole company. As time allows, I expect to expand this list of topics, and expand each topic into a short article about why I consider it an error or what I would suggest that you do about it. In the meantime, here is a brief paragraph about some of the items.

If you have questions or disagree with my opinions, or want to suggest additional topics, I urge you to share your ideas with me at Charlie@Plesums.com


System Security

Attempts to enhance the security of computer systems often go so far that they actually provide less security. Consider the following four examples.

For security purposes, your new card, enclosed, has been disabled when it was sent to you. To activate your card, call this number (in the instructions), give the name of the person that the card is for (attached to the card) and the number on the card.
I'm sure glad they deactivated the card before sending it, so that it couldn't be used if it fell into the wrong hands.

E-mail 1: Install our new security software by executing the program attached to this e-mail...
E-mail 2: Security Alert: Because of the possibility of viruses, the executable program attached to your e-mail message has been deleted.

To use the new secure remote connection to our network, click this link to receive your secret ID and password. (Use of the link required the ID and password.) Unable to find an alternative, a call was placed to the help desk.
Q: "May I have your name"
A: "Mr. Smith"
Q: "Mr. John Q. Smith Jr."
A: "Yes"
Q: "Are you located at 123 Main Street"
A: "Yes"
Q: "Is your phone number 555-123-4567"
A: "Yes"
Q: "They seem to have assigned a login name of JQSmith. Would that be you?"
A: "Yes"
Q: "I am sorry that I am not allowed to tell you what your password is, but I can change it to anything you want. What password would you like to use?"

To ensure security of your password, it must consist 7 or 8 characters. Further, the fourth character must be numeric, and the first character must be a letter, and only one pair of repeating characters is allowed - e.g. BIG8TALL. Your password will expire every 35 days, but cannot be changed more than once each day. The password should be remembered and may not be written down. You may not reuse previous passwords for three months. If you forget your password or enter the wrong password 3 times, your user ID will be suspended. To reactivate your ID, call the help desk, and they will change your password to the last 4 digits of your social security number.
Seems like it would be easier to just call the help desk anytime you want to sign on as someone!

Call Centers

The Internet increases the cost of customer service. I have seen several articles lately with this theme. The articles explain that the Internet can provide low cost 24-hour service to a portion of your customers - for example 30% of the contacts, at a cost of $2 per contact (and often only a few cents per contact). This is a huge savings if each telephone call costs $10 to service. The articles go on to lament that the number of calls has not dropped, but customers no longer call for simple questions like payments, rates, and account balances. When the customer does call now, they want professional advice and sales - requiring more experienced telephone agents and more time. Thus driving the cost of the telephone call to, perhaps $15. Therefore the articles conclude, the Internet increases the cost. WAKE UP! What is the value to the company of spending $10 giving an account balance to a customer over the phone? What is the value to the company of spending $15 to discuss products, services, and sales with a customer? Have we missed the point of having a call center in the first place?

How many rings to answer? If you receive a large number of telephone calls, the number of calls you will receive at any particular moment is remarkably predictable. (Of course you must consider hour of the day, day of the week, time of month and year, days since the statements were mailed, holidays, advertising campaigns, and so forth.) With a careful analysis, you can predict almost exactly how many people you need to answer the phone at each instant, or how long it will take you to get to a waiting caller if you are short of staff. To support a complex schedule without idle employees, you will need alternate work (processing paper or images?) during slower hours, or lots of part time people. An additional problem comes when too many employees want to go to lunch together, or the flu hits, or schools close and a parent stays home. To prove our statistics, we need to track how many people are actually working as scheduled, not just how many people came to work today. With a sophisticated model for projections, and a careful schedule, and tracking the compliance with that schedule, you can be almost certain of meeting your objectives (such as 80% of the calls answered within 20 seconds), while keeping the utilization of your employees at an efficient level.

Predictive dialing (or how to interrupt dinner). If you have a lot of people making a lot of calls (an outbound call center), you cannot afford to have a person dial a call, wait for the several rings, and start again when there is a recorder or no answer. If you know (from average call length) that three agents will be available in the next 20 seconds, and if you know that at this time of day you only have a 20% chance of getting an answer to your call, a predictive dialer can place multiple calls (perhaps 10 in this case) and transfer the call to a waiting agent when someone answers. If you placed too many calls (or more than the expected number of people answer) and no agent is available, the call can be abandoned. Not only do you pay for the abandoned call, but it is extremely irritating to your customer, even though they probably don't know who was calling. If you place too few calls, your agents might wait longer - say 15 seconds between calls instead of 5 seconds. By allowing your agents a few more seconds to rest between calls (and perhaps thereby increasing their effectiveness), you can drastically reduce the cost and irritation of calls that must be abandoned. Now you figure out the part about how to avoid interrupting dinner.

Customer Relationship Management is a new name for an old topic. When a customer calls, how long does it take to identify him or her, even if his name is Bob Smith? When you take the call, do you know that they sent an e-mail yesterday on the same subject? Or that they recently bought a product? Or that another agent has been trying to reach them about... Or that they are behind in their payments, so we don't want to solicit new business with them? One company I know has the reputation for providing service among the best in the world. Whoever answers a customer's call or letter has all the data about that customer, as if they were the only agent and the only customer - even though there were thousands of agents and millions of customers. Since practically anyone could take the call, there was no wait for a particular agent or a designated team. Since the agent that took the call "knew it all" the service was outstanding. Ironically that company is looking for a Customer Relationship Management system. They don't realize that they have had one of the world's best systems for 20 or more years!

Householding is a term that strikes fear in the hearts of most experts of the customer information file. Who lives in which household? What mail goes into the same envelope. How many copies of the brochure do I mail to that address (does the live-in grandma get her own copy?) If you don't want to face the issues, it is easy to make the case that the cost of the project exceeds the savings in postage and paper. And the issues of privacy for each of the customers in the household is raised. However, this is a big deal to your customers. They don't realize how difficult it is to get the output from diverse records in multiple systems into a single envelope - they see multiple envelopes as a wasteful company. But when the several envelopes come to a home, normally all are opened by one person - forget the privacy issues. When that customer telephones the company, the service representative can judge the privacy issues and can resolve or explain them. When the customer goes to a web site, they expect the same flexibility. Be sure you provide it!

Computer Systems

"My users only do one thing." "Therefore we need to have a program (an expensive custom program) that hides all the personal computer functions from them - locks them into their one program. Protects them from themselves." I have rarely seen an installation where anyone only does one function on their computer. Employees volunteer for United Way drives, Holiday Cheer, and other company sponsored activities that may have programs. Training is becoming more and more available through PCs. Progressive companies have employees maintain their own personnel records through an intranet or other program. And many regular employees have at least limited management functions when the primary manager is on vacation and the assistant manager is out to lunch or in a meeting. Do we need to protect users from the complexity of the PC? Not exactly, when the majority of homes now have them (and often a larger PC than provided at work), and families share computers with many users and multiple applications.

Keyboard vs. Mouse. The people who handle mail and telephone calls have become very proficient at computer processing, despite the horrible systems we have provided over the years. (Remember the months of training to learn all the funny codes that had to be added to the third screen of the CICS transaction on the 3270 terminal?) As we move to color displays on a Personal Computer, and a mouse to supplement a keyboard, many programs seem to forget that the users are fast and good, and can move quickly through their system. Of course, the system must be responsive, and must respond to a few logical keystrokes rather than a complex system of menus. Mice are fine (yes, the users become proficient in mice, also), but the mice are best when all the input is from mice, or all the input is from the keyboard, not when switching back and forth between the mouse and keyboard. The programmers, analysts, and testers who develop the systems seem to forget how fast the experienced users can do most processing, if the system will let them. A common problem with new systems is the way the keyboard and mouse are designed to be used by a beginner, without support for the expert.


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How to mess up your image and work management systems.