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Sitting in a local hospital Outpatients earlier this week (don't ask: the hernia 'repair' I had done in the Spring is recurring and will result in another month of what the medics laughably call 'discomfort' shortly), I was struck by how their systems and processes have changed over the last few years - and generally for the better.
My 2.45 appointment was called on the nail, and I was out, three separate procedures later, within an hour. A far cry from having everyone report at the same time (as they used to do), and then running a lottery on who gets seen first, and who has to wait four hours.
And yet there were still a couple of people opposite me, grumbling about why a nurse comes in to ask them their names, when we have all reported already to central Reception. "I've already told them my name; why do they need to ask again?"
Now it may be that central Reception's arrival desk either doesn't log people in when they arrive, but simply directs them where to go; or it does log them in, but that log-in does not connect to the individual departments. More likely, since there are numerous waiting areas to which one could be directed, they are simply double-checking that all the dim-wits have made it to the right place.
So what seems like an obvious double-check to the hospital administrator who devised it, to minimise unnecessary delays and misunderstandings, comes across to some patients as a sign of inefficiency.
Now ask yourselves: how many of the systems you employ in your own business could be misunderstood and ill-appreciated by at least part of your customer base. You don't know, do you?




In "The E-Myth Revisited," about which you know I proselytise whenever I can, Michael Gerber propounds the view that unless the systems and processes under which your company operates are so simple and efficient that a bright monkey could keep things on track, then the business isn't fit for purpose.

More to the point, the business is probably taking far more of your time and attention than it should to keep its basic administration running smoothly. And that also means that the overall value of the business (even if you're not planning to exit just yet) is equally depressed.

Good systems minimise costly mistakes and should, therefore, optimise the customer experience. And yet... most sytems are designed specifically to help the business rather than the customer, and it is assumed that there will be a positive knock-on effect on the customer experience. (nb Not for the first time: 'Assume' makes an 'ass' of 'u' and 'me'.)

What my hospital visit demonstrated all too vividly is that if you don't consider how those systems are perceived by the customers who interact with you, you may have processes that work for you internally, but still many of your customers think you're crap.

If, instead of simply asking a rather brusque manner for their names (nb foreign staff: poor cultural integration), she had been trained to say, "Please could I have your names; we just like to make sure that everyone who checks in at Reception finds their way to the right waiting area," or something like it, it would have generated no adverse comment.

So what can you do to make sure you minimise those little (or maybe big) customer irritations?  Well, asking a few friends and relations to 'mystery shop' the business is a good starting point. And do so yourself. Call your office/shop/business premises when you're out on the road, to find out how your staff answer the phone, for example.

And do the same with the competition, so you know what their strengths and weaknesses are.

The "Little Britain" sketch, featuring the catch-phrase, "The computer says No," sums up the issue of a supposedly efficient system that completely pisses off the end-user. And how many times have you used that phrase in real life, since it was coined a few short years ago?

A review of all your systems and processes, and their fitness for purpose, is one of the first things we put in place with our clients, at The Infinite Group.

No one is ever perfect, but it often takes an objective outside view to highlight the weaknesses in the system that are doing real damage to the bottom line.

David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail

For more information, or to arrange a no-strings-attached initial meeting, contact:  

David Croydon

Hilltop Consultancy
Business Advice Oxford, Oxfordshire