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Hanging on the Telephone

Optimize Blog - October 12, 2012 - 0 comments

So the mail arrives and you lazily sort through the mix of flyers, assorted periodicals and bills as you drink your morning coffee. Then you open your telephone bill only to learn to your astonishment that you owe more than the economic output of your country. A far fetched tale? Not for a woman in the south-west of France, who received a telephone bill of nearly 12 quadrillion Euros. That is not a typo…….
Solenne San Jose, from Pessac outside Bordeaux, said she received a huge shock when she opened the bill for 11,721,000,000,000,000 Euros – that’s a lot of zero’s. The sum is nearly 6,000 times France’s annual economic output.
The former teaching assistant said she “almost had a heart attack”.
The phone company, Bouygues Telecom, initially told her there was nothing they could do to amend the computer-generated statement and later offered to set up installments to pay off the bill – they were not drawn on how much exactly Ms San Jose would need to pay each month……
Ultimately the company admitted that the bill should have been for 117.21 Euros and eventually waived it altogether. The company has also apologized for the error, which it says was down to a printing issue and a subsequent misunderstanding between the client and staff at their call centre.
These things happen but we were concerned with the apparent lack of ability for the contact centre to recognize the ridiculousness of the situation and immediately to recognize that there must have been an error.
This ability for people to undertake a quick reasonableness check is important. It requires the confidence to challenge the system and processes within which the business operates. When the process is trusted at all costs we get the scenario with the telephone bill outlined above – the system says it is right and therefore it must be right.
As leaders we recognize that good process leads to good product. However, we need to create an environment where individuals within that process can recognize an error and use their own initiative to deliver a rational solution rather than pressing ahead with the process ‘script’. As always a balance needs to be struck and that is the balance between ensuring our teams follow the process but providing the latitude for them to adapt within the process. This is empowerment in action.
Clearly consistency in core processes delivers improved client and customer satisfaction and allows the organization to be flexible while at the same time delivering on the brand promise, but total inflexibility results in scenarios seen here with the telecom company.
Clear expectations, boundaries and guidelines are critical for the leader but good process in synch with empowerment and flexibility creates the truly effective team.

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