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Consulting By The Customer: Taking the Process Into Your Own Hands

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After his roommate moved out, Douglas Mezzer continued to receive and pay the monthly internet bill. Then, Mezzer made a fatal mistake: he decided to officially transfer the account to his own name.

In the Worse Than Failure article Connect Betterer (a pun on iiNet’s slogan “Connect better”), Alex Papadimoulis explains the thought process:

He figured it’d be a simple change that could all be accomplished through the self-service account management website.

After logging in, however, he ran into a bit of an issue. While he could change the address, phone number, email address, date of birth, and several other fields, the Firstname and Surname were disabled.

Not surprisingly, this is a standard approach among web developers. Since the create account and modify account forms are effectively identical, a quick shortcut is to simply tweak the latter so that certain fields are disabled. Although useful to the programmer, this design is a little frustrating to people like Douglas Mezzer.

consultants discuss account forms

The invoice came within a few weeks afterwards. It stated the additional expense, but was still addressed to his former roommate. Mezzer waited another month, and the next bill once again listed the old name! He called up iiNet to complain.

Mezzer began to wonder about the competence of his service provider since all that was standing between him and a successful name change was the fact that a few fields were marked as disabled. Perhaps if he could somehow change their value the system would dutifully replace his roommate’s old name with his. Using a program called Firebug, Mezzer was able to make the switch himself! The next month, the bill was addressed correctly.

Firebug  Example

The process of transferring an account from one person to another may involve well more than Mezzer’s clever solution. There may be contractual, legal or accounting ramifications, not to mention any compliance issues. There may also be multiple databases to update. However, the overall customer service experience, combined with the visual appearance of the web form, inspired Mezzer’s approach. From his perspective, all is resolved even though he did the work and he had to pay iiNet a hefty fee.

Organizations should analyze all aspects of a process. A procedure such as an account transfer not only requires actions from employees, but impacts customers. If it appears that a customer can implement a procedure themselves, they may attempt to do so—especially if your staff appears less than competent.

Since this article was posted, iiNet has corrected this issue and reached out to Douglas Mezzer. Yet, how many similar problems go unreported and unresolved? How many times is the customer the best consultant—and how often does the customer act as the consultant by fixing the problem themselves?

If your organization is struggling to manage business processes, talk to the business improvement consultants at AccelaWork. We help companies, non-profits and government organizations assess and improve their everyday operations.

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