We've all been hearing about the productivity problem.
Only this morning I was reading how Kellogg biz school is now studying MBA students to figure out which ones are procrastinators and make them change their ways. [An economist's idea of how to handle variations in human beings -- let's change the people!]
This is not the answer to our productivity problems. Indeed, I think I may have found the answer ... it's quality customer service.
Here's my evidence, from two places.
Productivity Mess #1 -- Premiere Global
First, Premiere Global. They bought Enunciate, the teleconferencing and web conferencing company I had been using for a few years. I got a lot of mail from them during the transition, which I dutifully filed for the most part. It was fine print and emphasized the importance of how they were making things simple for me during the transition.
Today, when I went to book a call, I discovered they have sent me TWO completely different sets of passcodes and IDs. This is going to trigger a bunch of back-and-forth between me and their sales rep, thereby wasting a bunch of time on both our parts. Not only that, but there's no way I'm using this service with a client or on a project until I'm sure it's going to work. So there's lost revenue also.
Imagine this scenario being played out thousands of times, which is surely what has happened.
Productivity Mess #2 -- Online services
The Premiere Global example is nothing compared to the thousands of dollars flushed with Dell in the last few weeks trying to buy an upgrade to space on my Dell DataSafe account.
After I had personally spent several hours on the phone with my Gold Tech Support person, a few sales staff he conferenced in, and an online chat support, I decided the problem had to be delegated before I went broke. That was more than a month ago.
The next victim [my delegatee] went through more of the same until he decided to go up ... way up ... and call the executive for Canada. A couple of senior people got right on the problem, and in just over a week (and counting) they have made progress. We aren't done, but we are getting there.
Throughout this process, there has been a continuing stream of e-mails committing to help, there have been apologies, there have been surveys asking us to comment on the service experience, and more than once the original Gold Tech Support person has called to commiserate, but advise that he is unable to help, except perhaps to try bullying someone else. [His exact words.]
A couple of weeks ago, we tried to surrender and just cancel and get a refund. I actually was glad that they decided to stay with us and try to solve the problem, rather than just give us the refund, actually. So we're in it for the long haul and heaven knows how long this will take to fix.
At one point, a senior manager admitted to my delegate that "there is a logic problem" on this service, and "they've had a few issues." The thing is, I don't question the goodwill or effort of anyone involved. This must be driving them nuts, too.
How efficiency initiatives in customer service are ruining the economy
I have no idea how the Dell story will end, but I can tell you one thing for sure: the ratio of expense to revenue on something that costs less than $100 is just staggering.
All of this comes from productivity initiatives that have pulled the brains out of the customer service and support function and replaced it with a fake-friendly script.
Note to senior executives:
 There's no such thing as an isolated service problem. If you see it once, it's a pattern.
 The way we handle customer service these days only looks more efficient. It ain't.
"Can't wait to put things off?" Philip Jackman, Globe and Mail, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008 print edition.
I first heard the words, "if you see it once, it's a pattern" from sales trainer Steve Schiffman. Words of wisdom, and so, so true, for sales, and for everything else.