Process for bad Service

In an office building’s bathroom, a sparky (electrician) was working to fix a hand dryer. Great!

Someone using the bathroom commented to them that one of the two lights wasn’t working, and if he’d be able to fix that while he was there. Answer: “Sorry no, I don’t have a work slip for that.” For those unaware, this means that this contractor would not get paid for the work – they only get paid for the specific work they do related to a particular work slip they are sent out with. Anything out-of-scope to that they can’t touch.

This is not the contractor’s fault, but rather the way the work request system of the building managers is organised. We can clearly see this leads to bad service as well as inefficiency (extra cost). Whatever it was trying to achieve, it probably isn’t.

In a setup where the process is not stuffed up like this, the electrician would probably have noticed the broken light bulb themselves, and replaced it before it was even mentioned by a tenant. You know, the way things used to work…

Another example. When you file a problem with Australia’s NBN (National Broadband Network) fault system via your service provider, they send out an engineer, even if that is inappropriate for the task. The engineer is again contracted, and very restricted in what they are allowed to do. Many are highly skilled, however their expert input on a technical matter is not taken into account.

Unsurprisingly, the engineer is not actually able to fix an issue as they are not allowed to do what needs to be done, but because of the way the process is arranged, the fault marked as actioned and resolved – fault logged, engineer sent out. To make matters worse, NBN used to not track history per client to a next issue – that is, when you filed another fault, the engineer sent out would not have access to history. Each fault was regarded as separate. Apparently this has changed now (NBN presented this as a great innovation – sigh).

So what does such a stuffed process achieve? Well, if you look at certain statistics, it looks really good. There are issues raised, but they’re all actioned within days, and then closed. There are no long-running cases.

We may wonder, do these companies operate with malicious intent? Well, companies are of course made up of people, but bad business processes can cause a lot of hassle. The people may feel stuck, or are merely following orders. Processes may have (been) developed -specifically or organically- with the best of intent.

The key thing to realise is that intent does not effect outcome. Whatever you set up, regardless of intent, is likely to yield a specific outcome. Badness, even when done with good intent, is still badness.