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If Corporate America Were Competent

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“How can I improve productivity in my business?” is the question I’m often asked. To answer that, let’s look at the opposite case: how some massive corporations are the model of inefficiency.

I recently received a call from a company where I have a couple of accounts. (Why can’t I have just one account? That’s a whole other blog post.)

The recording said: “We’re calling to let you know that some mail we recently sent to your address was returned by the US Postal Service marked undeliverable. As this pertains to your bill, please call us to correct the issue.”

I’ve been getting their bills just fine for years and haven’t moved or changed addresses, so this was a surprise. But now it was time to face one of the most well-known destroyers of personal productivity: the call center.

Corporate Productivity: Call Center

© Flickr user State Farm

It took about five minutes of plugging through the automated system to determine there was no prompt for “USPS deliverability problems.” I convinced the machine to connect me to a live person.

I provided my account information. It took some time to explain the problem to the first agent. She soon realized she could not help me. However, she did spend the majority of our conversation stressing how important they found me as a customer and how much her company appreciated me. Apparently, though, I wasn’t valuable enough for the company to actually give the agent the same information they had left for me in a voicemail.

In any case, since this was a accounts receivable question, the first agent transferred me to another department. Again, I gave my name and account information. After telling my story, this agent determined that I would need to speak to the billing department. I was transferred once again.

Agent number three asked for my name and account information. Then I recounted the tale of the incoming message, and she suggested that the address was incorrect in their system. But it turns out that since my account is linked to their online system, she would not be able to change it over the phone. Instead, I had to be connected to agent #4 in the Web Assist department.

As expected, this person needed me to identify myself and give my account number. He did have the power to change my address, but he didn’t have any way to confirm that bills had been returned. That, he explained, was another department.

I had now been on the phone for a half hour, so I gave up.

Improve Productivity: Facepalm

© Flickr user Brandon Grasley

It’s not hard to show ways this company could seriously improve productivity based on just this one experience. For example:

  • Preserve caller name and account information between transfers. That way, I don’t need to identify myself again each time I speak to a new person. In fact, a note in the account might be best of all.
  • Create system notes based on outbound notifications. If you need to call me to inform me of a problem, why not make a record of that problem and the date of your message so that all agents can see what I’m talking about.
  • Solve problems offline. Once one agent understands what I need, why transfer me? Why not have that agent take my number, work through the details, and call me back?

All of these ideas to improve productivity are easy to describe but hard to implement. Certainly this a huge company with tens of thousands of employees and millions invested in software systems and business processes.

But the more difficult part about these ideas is that they represent a change in culture. They demand that we fight the silo effect.

Imagine what would happen if large companies put true engagement at the top of the list. Imagine what would happen if organizations broke down departments and worked to solve problems in ways that benefit the customer. Imagine what would happen if calling for support wasn’t a horrific experience?

Imagine if big companies were actually competent. Instead of dismissing the enterprise as an acceptable nightmare, we’d be living in the world of our dreams.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 1 month ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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