Monday, 28 February 2011

Customer Service Mass Production

In the early part of the 20th century Henry Ford said "You can have a model T in any colour as long as it is black!"

The days of building large volumes of mass produced items in batch have almost disappeared with the introduction of lean thinking. Manufacturing might have reached this state of mass individualisation but has customer service?

Not a week goes by without encountering yet another example of crass service design that end up making this grumpy business architect even more grumpy.

We have to realise that we can't codify everything and sometimes humans have to apply common sense and yet this seems to rarely happen, particularly when activity gets outsourced and off-shored.

Lift and ship to a place that is "cheap"; standardise activity to minimise the need for high levels of 1st language communication skills and pay staff a fraction of what you did before - "Kerching" all in the name of reduced costs and competition.

The result is often a fed up customer, threatened loyalty and renewals but in a culture of management delusion where no-one knows that the service they offer end to end from an individual customers perspective was dreadful; as introspective KPIs continue to "fog" the management that all is well.

Does all this facilitate growth, customer retention or even customer advocacy? ehh... No!

Simple problem really - think and apply common sense and build exception routines into your processes and staff accordingly to flex the requirement for a bit of sensible response.

Mass produced customer service done on the cheap in mass call centres using foreign cheap labour to drive down costs; does this sound a bit like a car assembly plant sixty years or seventy ago!

Maybe in years to come we will see a similar revolution in customer service that can deliver service excellence pulled as customers demand it, individualised and intelligent, rather than the frequently bland, frustrating and cost reduced excuses that we regularly put up with today.

Then we will look back on the noughties and say: "well you could have customer service then as much as you liked, as long as you obeyed the BPM work-flows!"

Will the early 21st century be quoted in future business studies texts as the dark days of customer service before the enlightenment of lean mass individualised service; well we shall see if things improve - there is certainly lots of scope for that in my view.

I will resist the wish to share yet another fiasco I experienced with an insurance company that sparked this post but you really will think I am being grumpy if I did that, so I will spare you!

Well maybe for now- I reserve the right to come back and reveal all!


  1. If we off shore much more there will be no one left in employment to buy the financial services that these companies sell! This is a macro economic shot in the foot!

  2. The consequences of outsourcing are deeper than we all realise.

    I think one of the issues that gets forgotten amongst all the cost reduction is the silo effect it causes and the disruption of end to end customer journeys.

    Each silo need to make money and its contractual obligations to the leading brand in the value chain over-ride the natural end to end process and journey that most customers desire. This may well be why customer service seems to get worse year on year at present.