The New Shell Game in Service

The advent of technology has enabled work to be spread around the world.  Try finding who actually does the work once it reaches an electronic mailbox and you are sure to need to hire a detective.

Service organizations have designed front offices that actually can’t do anything but pass the work to the back office.  And some times either the front office and/or back office are outsourced to a country with cheaper labor.  This is allowed only because we have technology to pass things around the world.

As a customer, I get frustrated with talking to contact centers that have been outsourced and off-shored.  Yes, sometimes I can’t understand the agent, but that isn’t the reason for my ire.  The problem is they can’t help me when I get to them.  They read scripts and are polite, but they can’t help me.

The sad thing is I run into the problem when the agent hasn’t been off-shored.  This has long led me to believe that the design is the problem whether outsourced or not.  Consumers are frustrated with IVRs to navigate, scripts to overcome, and back offices hidden away with the people that can actually help me buy or solve my problem.

Many companies have programs for off-shored companies to teach language skills to their employees.  But no one is addressing the real problem of the design of the work.  The result is predictable demand from customers that are caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer (failure demand).  Or worse, the customer never calls back . . . and you can’t measure loss of business.  The reality is that if you have large amounts of failure demand, you have a large loss of potential and existing business – word gets around.

Too many service organizations take the attitude that it is costly to actually answer a phone call with a human that can absorb the variety service customers bring.  And to design work that actually allows a customer to get an answer one-stop would have the organization drowning in red ink.

The management paradox is that nothing could be further from the truth.  Good service always costs less than bad service . . . by a lot!  Designing out failure demand and creating value for customers is what creates profit.  There is no profit without customers.

Service organizations have created a maze for customers to navigate thinking that this is good business.  For customers, it is a shell game from an unscrupulous street vendor determined on hiding the pea.  This is a lose-lose for both service provider and customer.

Join me for the International Deming Conference in New York City on March 21 – 22.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Download free from “Understanding Your Organization as a System” and gain knowledge of systems thinking or contact us about our intervention services at [email protected].  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

Share This: