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Balancing Security and Service

By Phil Verghis on June 30, 2008

Before I travel abroad, I call my credit card companies to let them know where I’ll be no matter how many countries I stop in. I started doing this after I was left scrambling to find an alternate method of payment when a credit card company thought the card was stolen and denied payment.

One of the companies is a pleasure to deal with – AMEX – one call takes care of it all. In and out in about 30 seconds. My other credit card company has me answer multiple questions, one of which invariably involves having my payment history in front of me. Not very user friendly particularly when I’m calling from an airport on my way out.

Needless to say, I tend to use my AMEX more than any other card particularly while traveling abroad.

This tension is typical between customer support/service folks in a company and security folks.  So, in your organization, do you strike a balance that puts the customer’s needs first or do you make 99.9% of the people jump through hoops to catch the 0.1% of potential crooks?

Q110 – Deutsche Bank’s ‘Branch of the Future’

By Phil Verghis on June 23, 2008

During my recent trip to Berlin, I was given a personal tour of Deutsche Bank’s ‘Branch of the Future’. This innovative and stylish branch encompasses the latest technologies with novel concepts drawn from upmarket retail stores and cafes.

As you walk in, there are pictures of staff working that day with their names and areas of specialization.  You can ask to speak with specific people instead of having to queue up to conduct transations with the ‘next available teller’. On the left, there are ATMs with new technologies – one where you can drop in coins without pre-counting them, and it is automatically counted and deposited into your account; another with fingerprint recognition etc. On the right, there are a rotating set of high end merchants – on my trip, it was a travel related theme with Thomas Cook (the travel agency) who had enticing brochures on exotic locales and a representative on hand, along with a high end Italian designer company selling bags, briefcases and assorted travel goodies.

Just beyond this area, you have services (like loans, mortgages etc.) that are bundled into tangible products - something you can touch and feel, and have to buy for a modest price. (You get back more than what you pay for in savings inside the box.)

At the back of the branch is a stylish upmarket cafe, with big screen flat panel TVs and free internet connectivity (there is even a flat screen tv built into the bar surface complete with embedded keyboard). There is a free (staffed) daycare and customizable meeting rooms all with the latest technology. It is even pet friendly.

This ‘branch of the future’ caters well for both the self service crowd as well as the ‘high touch’ crowd, making it a far more personalized and pleasurable experience – indeed a destination if the number of people who walked in were any indication.

If you are in Berlin, you should go see it!

Quick update from Berlin Global Technical Support Conference

By Phil Verghis on June 12, 2008

Interesting factoids from some of the talks – from Sean O’Driscoll, former GM of Community Support at Microsoft, now on his own. One observation was that the search tool (e.g. Google) gets most of the credit for the content that you (or your customers) have created.

Another presentation was from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormon Church). Interesting factoid – the average age of their online knowledge base volunteers is 70!

The Euro Cup is going on, and it is wonderful to watch different communities celebrate as they win.

Leaving for Berlin

By Phil Verghis on June 9, 2008

I’m heading off in a few hours to Berlin via Zurich, for the first ever Consortium for Service Innovation/TAUS joint conference. I’ll be doing the keynote at the event, which will be held very close to Checkpoint Charlie. For those of you read spy novels (or history), you can see why this is going to be an interesting trip on a personal level as well.

Six Sigma for Services: The Great Divide

By Phil Verghis on June 2, 2008

(taken from the June 2008 Verghis View newsletter)

Major philosophical differences exist between managers who run large-scale operations – ones with a massive number of incoming calls – and operations with a lower volume of quite complex calls.

One big disparity revolves around metrics. High volume support centers generally concentrate on metrics that show how smoothly their operations are running. These managers know that slight changes in efficiency make a significant difference in a unit’s profitability. The folks running complex support centers, on the other hand, tend to dismiss Six Sigma and focus on things like customer satisfaction or loyalty.

Is there a happy middle ground?

I spoke recently with Geetha Panda, Hewlett-Packard’s worldwide head for service delivery excellence. She explained a pre-emptive escalation model they’ve developed in their Bangalore service delivery center. The model was based on a study of the relationship between output metrics (customer SLAs and KPIs) and the input metrics that directly or indirectly affect them.

This derives from Six Sigma, in which you focus on the things that you have control over (e.g., staff availability), and ignore the things that you don’t (e.g., customer satisfaction). By ensuring a good end-to-end understanding of the implications of decisions made along the way, a strong alignment is created. This reduces variation and unpredictability, which in turn helps ensure that the outcomes are more likely to be statistically “in control.”

Geetha cited one example of how this approach has transformed HP’s Bangalore center. They took over an exceptionally high-profile, at-risk account from a native English-speaking center, and successfully converted them into fans again. She credits their pre-emptive escalation model for this win. In fact, the model has been so successful that HP is now extending it to other centers around the world.

As I reflected on my conversation with Geetha, I wondered why many in the support world – especially those who run lower volume, high complexity support centers – tend to dismiss Six Sigma. I would guess it’s the apparent focus on process and metrics to the exclusion of everything else. Think about it. Complex technical support inherently has a “people first, process second, technology third” hierarchy. Six Sigma’s priorities seem to be process first, followed by people and then technology.

But is that really true? A careful analysis of Six Sigma shows it’s not. In fact, one of its key tenets is gathering input and suggestions from those actually doing the work.

Are you successfully using any aspects of Six Sigma in your support organization? Let me know. I’m particularly interested in lower-volume, high-complexity support organizations using Six Sigma.


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