Get Great and Eliminate

The Elimination Sensation

When we released the book “The Best Service Is No Service” in 2008 some people didn’t get the core idea. They thought we were advocating the idea of “withdrawing” service rather than “eliminating the need” for service. The drive for automation and digitisation has taken off in recent years as we advocated back in 2008. All types of business now

promote digital solutions of many types and customers expect to have digital options. However, we are often surprised that companies have a bias to “automation” rather than “elimination”. There is a place for both, of course, but getting rid of the need for contact should be the best possible outcome. Removing contact is the ultimate win for the customer and organisation as it takes away all the effort for the customer and as a ”side effect”, the cost of contact for the business. It is always our goal to find both these solutions.

Elimination may be easiest in situations where the organisation has created the need for contact through mismanaged expectations (where is my X?) or confusion (how does this work or why did you send me this?). However even apparent transactional needs like “what’s my balance?” or “when is my payment due?” can now be managed through proactive and pre-emptive contacts so an “elimination” mindset can prevent the need for some automation. In this paper we thought we’d explore the lessons from five different “elimination” solutions to draw out the themes that organisations can look for. We will look, in turn, at turning business rules on their heads, re-thinking processes to pre-empt demand, getting rid of dumb processes, the value of proactive contact and increasing resolution.

Turning Business Rules on their heads

Perhaps our most “stunning” elimination exercise came at the time that internet banking was still a relatively “new channel”. We were assisting the fast-growing help desk of a major bank. When we sampled calls, over twenty percent were customers wanting to “add” their new accounts to their Internet profile. In those days the bank thought customers wouldn’t want all accounts visible on their profile and had rules in place to make customers call and add them. Most new account application forms didn’t mention that accounts would or wouldn’t be added to the internet profile. Our answer was to flip the business rule and say that all new accounts would be added unless the customer opted out. This meant changing some application form wording to enable the customer to opt out. It also meant changing various IT systems to add new accounts to internet banking profiles. When we turned it on, the change was instant and over twenty percent of calls disappeared. Customers loved it as did staff in branches and the call centre.

Re-thinking the Process – the dual blade razor approach.

A major complaints service had rising levels of complaints and couldn’t cope. They had a backlog of two-months of unopened complaints. They believed that the industry was creating more than they could cope with so they just thought they would have to add 25% more staff. They asked us to see if they “had missed something”.

Our diagnostic process came up with two changes that eliminated work within weeks. The first closed a process “loop-hole” where intake staff thought they were doing the right thing by offering some customers a complex investigation process from the “get-go”. A better way to solve the complaint was to give the customer’s company a “second crack” at the complaint before any complex and time-consuming investigation.

When we looked at these investigations, we noticed that once the customer had rejected a company’s offer it went straight into the full investigation process regardless of the offer made. Often at the end of weeks of investigation, the customer was persuaded to accept the original offer. So, we added a triage team and process to help advise customers on which initial offers they should accept, and this prevented long running investigations. Adding time at one stage of the process was a great elimination tactic that counterintuitively eliminated work. A ten-minute phone call often prevented weeks of downstream work. Customers won by getting faster resolution and the industry players avoided extra costs while the complaint service reduced work by a further 10%. Between these two changes over 30% of work was eliminated!

We’ve always done it that way

Many health insurance companies allow customers to “suspend” their policy if the customer travels overseas or has some reason why they won’t need to claim. In one company the customers had to send in proof of travel with things like travel itineraries.

We asked what the company did with that documentation and found it was sent to a 15 person admin team in another state who ”processed” and filed it, dutifully. As soon as the policy was suspended, the customer couldn’t claim. This meant the business had no premiums for that period but also no risk. The “proof” documentation therefore had no purpose, so we eliminated that entire step by rethinking the suspension. This was another triple win with shorter calls, less customer effort and a whole back office process eliminated. It also meant that the process could go digital as customers could just provide suspension dates with no proof needed. At another client we worked out that chasing small debts (below $10) cost more than $10 each time so we just cut the process and enabled the credit team to focus on larger debts. Work eliminated and money saved.

The value of proactive contact

One of Amazon’s secrets that we documented in “The Best Service is No Service” was pre-empting customer contact with outbound emails and messages to the customers of key events. These include when the warehouse receives the order and when it is shipped, together with self-tracking via a tracking number. The cost of bulk email and SMS had a payback from avoided contacts and Amazon still sends a range of these proactive messages although moves to same day delivery have changed the focus to stating when orders will arrive.

In utilities, one of the more complex contact types (and most frequent) is customers asking, “why is my bill so high?”. Some utilities have tackled this through another form of proactive service. They identify bills that are higher than customer might expect (compared to this time last year or the last bill) and include warnings and explanations with the bill. Some send text and email warnings with self-help guides to help the customer analyse the issue. These proactive strategies have eliminated over a third of these contacts at very low cost and allow customers to “self-help”. Even comparing, for example, summer and winter bills made more sense to the customer. Telcos have adopted similar strategies with warning messages via text and even outbound calls before the bill is even generated, when phone or internet plans exceed certain limits. These are great examples of pre-emptive elimination strategies.

Enabling Resolution – Back to front reengineering

Repeat contacts can represent a different type of demand that can be eliminated.

In many of our diagnostics we find that lack of resolution in all its forms causes repeat contact. Sometimes it’s customers calling back to seek a different answer (”agent shopping”), but often it is because their expectations aren’t met when work is handed off. Customers generally call back when the request they made doesn’t happen as quickly as they expect. Our normal answer is to move work from the back office to the front so that it can be truly “one and done”. A classic example was allowing a front-line team to process refunds without sending a work request to Finance that took up to two weeks to process. This change eliminated all the “where’s my refund” calls and saved work in the finance area who were delighted to get less work! Of course, we added controls to ensure the process wasn’t abused. Another win-win.

Summary

So far from being a cost focused exercise, true elimination requires an even more obsessive focus on customer needs and effort. It’s not always easy to see the elimination opportunities but we hope that these five ideas will illustrate what is possible. The return from elimination is possibly the easiest to quantify and measure so the investments are worth it. We’re happy to explain more about the solutions we have recommended. For more information email us at info@limebridge.com.au or call 03 9499 3550.

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