Customer avoidance

August 11, 2012

I had reason to pay a visit to a large branch of the HSBC bank recently. I’m not a customer of theirs but needed to pay a cheque in for someone else to a bank that they supply a service for. The sliding doors revealed a dimly lit interior full of machines that one is expected to carry out ones transactions through – if you can see which one is the appropriate one in the plush surroundings more reminiscent of a 70’s night club. After wandering about looking for the correct paying-in slip or a service counter I found a lift that indicated there was a service desk on the ground floor but the only one I found was for business customers. I stopped a young assistant, obviously the modern day equivalent of the department store floor walker who directed me to the first floor – I informed her that the lift claimed one was on the ground floor but only received a look that indicated that I was wrong.

Making my way up the stairs (I didn’t trust the lift!) I found a service desk hidden in a far corner with two staff behind glass and a short queue. This journey was quite a long one from the front door, so entirely designed to discourage face-to-face custom. Patiently waiting my turn I was eventually seen to be told that I couldn’t pay the cheque in without a pre-printed paying-in slip – something I had actually managed to do at a smaller rural branch in the past, but times had obviously changed and HSBC were intent on making life hard for customers unwilling to adapt to their systems.

Having got rid of a load of staff in April and now finding itself caught-out laundering money for gangsters and drug cartels, HSBC is obviously reinventing itself for a new market, but it’s not after ordinary customers who just want reasonable service. This was so unlike the Cooperative Bank branch I had just been into, where a cheery “Good Afternoon” had greeted me before I’d even put pen to paying-in slip.

I pray that in its attempts to be efficient government, including local government, avoid the HSBC model and focus on delivering service through systems that work.


Social media and customers

August 1, 2012

First of all I picked up from a Tweet by Jerry van Leeuwen that there was a new item on the Harvard Business Review blog network by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. Nothing particularly new there, for as they say “social media improves service by making the market for peer-to-peer opinion more efficient”. They break this up into three components – ‘service recovery’, service improvement’ and ‘customer training’.  Then a post on the Econsultancy blog on 24 July 2012 by Patricio Robles entitled “Is Twitter creating a VIP customer service channel?” repeats a similar argument with examples concluding that “social media is a supplement to existing customer service programs, not a replacement”.

This was then reinforced by the weekly news email from Gerry McGovern who stated that “many customers go to social media sites to complain”. Gerry states that “Organizations have abused words such as community and loyalty for a long time. There s a need to get real.” This is combined with an attack on the ‘sticky’ websites of old. He states that there research indicates the need to help customers:

  • trust the information they receive
  • receive clear messages at each decision stage
  • weigh the options confidently

This is equally appropriate to government and the failure to do so is why citizens continue to use multiple channels. The advise from Frei & Morriss, along with Patricio Robles, might help regain that trust. Whilst I remain less skeptical on social media for government I do think any approach needs to be done on a strategic basis and follow some of the best practice already identified.


Less skeptical on social media

July 26, 2012

John Kamensky at GoverningPeople has pointed me to a recent report from the Feis Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania entitled “The Rise of Social Government“. At 110 pages the 3Mb PDF download is not a light read but is a thorough study and endorsement of the use of social media across US government large and small. As an example of the numbers involved in using social media in the USA NASA has more followers than the population of Denver, Colorado, whilst The US State Department has more followers than that of Salt Lake City.

The uses highlighted include information distribution but also drawing feedback about graffiti and repairs needed, along with encouraging participation in producing policy. The report considers different ways of managing social media, either central or distributed, along with a variety of ways of getting content approved before publication. There are obviously going to be uses for social media in government, including local government, but before driving potential followers away by tedious or untargetted messages it is probably best to examine a serious report about how it has been successfully used and then considering whether that would work in your own locality.


Communicate!

July 11, 2012

I Tweeted a post from simply-communicate.com on their review of Terry Leahy’s ‘Management in 10 words’ but thought repeating a few words of the post here. Leahy (former CEO at Tesco) emphasises the value of face-to-face in a time when email and social media permit managers to easily avoid it. Importantly, the review reports Leahy stating:

“Each day in stores, depots and offices, managers would brief their team leaders who, in turn, briefed their teams. We called them Team Five meetings – because they only took five minutes and so they could be done standing up. Those five minutes made a big difference, as everyone then knew what was going on and that they had a part to play. Even in the age of instant communication, it takes a manager longer than five minutes to compose a bad email.”

The review also states that when Leahy took over at Tesco “he commissioned the most exhaustive customer research in the history of Tesco – and I suspect of any FTSE 100 company. And then he acted on what customers told him they did not like about shopping at Tesco and set about fixing things detail by detail.”

Both emphasise the need for regular and open communications with whoever you are dealing with, be they customers, citizens or colleagues, along with having a loop in place to act upon critical feedback. This is not a case of establishing focus groups or small cliques, but of actively listening to what is going on in the big world.


What’s the big idea?

July 8, 2012

Yet another ‘big’ paper making ‘big’ things up around the opportunities from ‘big’ data. This time from the right-of-centre Policy Exchange who should realise that ‘big’ data ultimately brings along big government. “The Big Data Opportunity: Making government faster, smarter and more personal” (PDF, 36 pages, 1.21 Mb) is written by Chris Yiu.

There is little mention in the report of local government, which is the hard/chalk/coal face of government to the majority of the population and whilst has minimal control over its budgets thanks to ‘big’ central government, has the most to offer in terms of accountability, local democracy and the effect on people’s lives. Page 7 does highlight the requirement “that ensuring that public sector leaders and policymakers are literate in the scientific method and confident combining big data with sound judgment”, which would be something of a novelty given the tendency of politicians and their puppets to adjust data to their needs – one has only to consider WMD for a start! This is repeated on page 9 “Embracing the big data opportunity will take leadership and ethical integrity of the highest order”, to which I would ask for some real-life demonstration of it first. In also think there’s something contrary in an economist talking about ‘scientific method’.

In a similar manner, those given access to the data are expected to respect privacy, another new experience for those governing – I doubt if any citizen of this country, given the low moral compass of their leaders, would trust any with more information than they have to. This is an accepted fact when the population happily reveal to Facebook and Google data that they’d resist handing over to government. The paper, on page 13, then goes on to present data matching as an alternative to the National Identification card, as if we didn’t have legislation that clearly prevents that type of exercise (unless crime is indicated) – this is more Big Brother than big data, whatever the benefits. The author then goes on to make a number of proposals for the use of big data, along with a stylised desktop for airport management. Some of the ideas will clearly be constrained by existing legislation and data quality, but anyone who has dealt with the HMRC and their ‘credit reference agency’ will know the quality of the data, and the HMRC’s seemingly singular inability to join up their own house let alone share data with others!

As to the use of data mining to identify fraud – a quick read of The Plot Against the NHS by Colin Leys & Stewart Player would indicate that the vulnerability to fraud comes greatest when attempts to marketize services are made, this will apply to all government service not just health. A current example is the investigations being done around A4E. The issue here is not big data but the structuration of services and policy in such a manner that no auditor has the opportunity to smell the rats as they surface. The more complex systems are made, the increased likelihood of fraud and error.

Page 29 repeats the wishful mantra again – “Governments should have the utmost respect for civil liberties – and citizens themselves can and must hold their government to the highest ethical and moral standards”. Citizens should be able to trust government but recent history indicates a majority of politicians can’t be even trusted to do their own expense claims, let alone not mix with the wrong sort of journalist.

I suggest the ‘think-tank’, like some many of their brethren, get some real world experience before indulging their fantasies on the rest of us.

Cynical summary – The report is ‘sponsored’ by EMC Corporation, the recent destination of a former government CIO and a company whom I would imagine make a lot of money out of government accumulating big data.