It’s all About the System Stupid


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I work for a large multi-national corporation. Like most large multi-national corporations we have wisely outsourced our IT. Part of it to a “technology provider” and part of it to a “service provider”. On paper this gives us a very cheap and flexible solution but the reality is that the overall experience is a little, let me say, disjointed.

The threat of no e-mail

A couple of months ago I got an e-mail informing me that my e-mail account would be “de-registered” (shut down) if I didn’t update my details. Something to do with IT security.

There was a link on the e-mail that I had to click. I clicked the link, the link didn’t work.

There was a phone number on the e-mail. I rang the phone number and a helpful recorded voice told me that the telephone line was dead.

So I replied to the e-mail explaining that I couldn’t update my details because neither the link, nor the phone line worked.


Impending doom

A week later I got a rather more threatening e-mail telling me that if I didn’t update my e-mail account immediately it would be “de-registered”. I clicked the link and phoned the number. Oddly neither worked.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~ Albert Einstein

So I rang the IT help desk, our “service provider”. Unfortunately they couldn’t help me, apparently the “technology provider ” provides the e-mail account, but they would send them a task.

Still Nothing

My last ever e-mail

A week later I received an e-mail informing me that this was the last e-mail I would ever get. My account had been “de-registered”.

I wouldn’t complain, but I get a lot of e-mails.

It took 2 weeks of twice daily calls for the “service provider” and the “technology provider” to get their act together and switch my account back on.

Payback time

Eventually the service was restored and I was asked if I would do a customer survey and give some feedback.

Now I was ready to give some customer feedback, some king sized customer feedback, “yes please” I said.

An electronic voice started to ask me some questions:

  • Q. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being very good… how polite was the customer service representative?
  • A. 5. Very polite, I would go as far as to say she was charming.
  • Q. Out of 5… how well did the customer service representative understand your problem?
  • A. 5. I spoke to her daily for a fortnight, she knew exactly what the issue was and was most apologetic.
  • Q. Out of 5… how well did the customer service representative keep you informed?
  • A. 5. She always told me exactly what stage my request was at with the “technology provider”.

Then came the kicker

After I had provided my scores the electronic voice uttered the words:

Thank you so much for your feedback. We are glad you were delighted by our service

As Captain Haddock would have said: ##@†?†!!

People aren’t the issue

There is a management belief that customer service is all about people; it is all down to the calibre of the customer service rep, their attitude and helpfulness.

Measure how good the rep is then you will improve performance.

But at their root, most service failures are due to the system, not the people. So measuring the people doesn’t help, not one bit.

A better set of questions

If the questions had been:

  • Q1. Did you want to contact our customer service help line today?
  • Q2. How well did our policies and procedures support the resolution of your issue?
  • Q3. Have we done anything to prevent your issue from reoccurring in the future?

Maybe then the survey would have driven a little more performance improvement.

Your customer service representatives can have the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and all the charm of the Devil, but without the processes and systems to support them they are on a hiding to nothing.

It’s the system stupid ~ John Seddon

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


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