Wednesday, March 28, 2007

No Hand Backs

I’ve noticed in my dealings with various companies that one of the significant factors that impacts my satisfaction is the manner in which I am moved through an organization’s bureaucracy. So, for example, I deal with a couple of financial firms who work with me on a number of levels in different ways. In some cases I am a personal client, in others I am a corporate client. With a bank, for example, I might have different kinds of accounts including a checking account, credit card, and mortgage, and I may deal with the same bank through my work. Inevitably, it seems, I start by calling the wrong person or department. A couple of years ago it seemed that SOP (that is standard operating procedure) was to give me the phone number for the right department… “I’m sorry Mr. Neary, you need to speak with someone in the mutual funds department… they can be reached at 1-800-blah-blah-blah.” That was good service because usually the person on the other end of that call (Ok... really it would be the person I would eventually get to after responding to several automated prompts) could help me.

These days it seems that SOP is that, rather than giving me another number to call (thus handing me back my problem), organizations are more carefully handing customers off to those who can solve problems… “I’m sorry Mr. Neary, you need to speak with someone in the mutual funds department, please hold… hi Joe, I have Mr. Neary on the line, he needs you to help him with his mutual fund account… you should have his information on the screen… I know that you can solve his problem.”

Hand offs are far superior to hand backs.

An organization in pursuit of superior customer service should adopt a no hand backs policy. No matter what, once a customer (student, parishioner, patient, constituent, influencer, etc.) presents you with a problem, you don’t get to give it back to the customer. It is either yours to solve, or you need to thoroughly hand off the problem to a colleague. No hand backs, only hand offs.

This approach could help fix some common misconceptions including:
  • Customers understand and appreciate the fine lines of delineation that exist in our organizational structures. If I were a bank employee, for example, I might better understand why the mutual fund representative can’t answer questions about a money market account… but I’m not an employee and all the problems, as well as all the various customer service representatives, look the same to me. We can’t expect our customers to be all that skilled in navigating our bureaucracies.
  • Getting involved in another department’s work is the unpardonable sin. I think that most people most of the time do hand backs not because they are uncaring or lazy, but because they are afraid to touch another department’s business. Once the problem is solved, the customer will likely go merrily along their way… but I have to work with Joe in accounting for ever! For the sake of our customers, and ultimately for the sake of our organizations, we need to get over our fascination/fear of our organizational structures.
  • It is bad form to dump problems on others. I get that; we call them wet babies in my office. If we hand back, we might be able to do so anonymously; hand offs tend to implicate us in the problem. Again, we need to get over ourselves. Besides… if we do a good job of handing off, helping to identify the problem and getting good communication going, we are already more a part of the solution than part of the problem.

This is all pretty rudimentary stuff, I know, but it seems pretty important.

I’m thinking about making a no hand backs rule in the organizations that I have a part in leading. Think it will work?


Anonymous said...

hmmm. interesting. now I have to learn to use voicemail forwarding? Really thinking about the teamwork this approach might foster: if everyone interacts, there's increased equality and shared responsibility. Every link in the chain is vital and valuable. It's the West-Jet mentality: everyone owns the airline, so there is customer service from the ground up rather than top down.

Anonymous said...

I like it—you have collected some good thoughts. You might consider an additional component besides a hand-off or hand-back—a get-back (a slightly modified version of a handoff). In many ministry environments at least, there exists insufficient staffing or resources to immediately handoff the monkey to the qualified or responsible party or department. In those cases, I have instructed my staff to respond with, “I don’t know the answer to your question or who to direct you to for an answer. However, I will find out and get back to you sometime today.” It becomes a win if we can under-promise but over-deliver in a timely fashion and resolve the person’s issue, meeting or exceeding their expectations. I wish I could say this always happens according to the script, but we are working on it!

Dan Neary said...

In order for a simple rule like this to work, I suppose we'd need to have some understandings of what does not constitute a hand back, such as:
- "Later" (or "get back") is not a hand back
- "No" is not a hand back. No is just no ("no, you can't do that or have that" , "no, this isn't something with which we can help you")

Anonymous said...

As both a customer/client & employee I'm in favor of the "no hands back" policy. I also agree with the comment regarding "a get-back" policy. There are great ways to handle a situation in which you do not know the answer to the problem, but can still be part of the solution.

Anonymous said...

Dan: well said. The "hand backs" concept reminded me of when I was a kid one of the rules for tag was no "tag backs" which meant when you were tagged by the person who was "it", you couldn't just reach back and tag them as "it" again. Same concept I guess at least on the surface. The "customer" tags us and we become "it" handing the issue back to them instead of taking it on makes them still "it" again. And really who wants to "it" all them time? You'd eventually quit and go home.

Anonymous said...

This is great. We all need to be reminded of this. It's too easy to hand back. I know I'm guilty. Sometimes it's hard to think through the difference between "There is nothing we can do about this", and "How can I help this person take the next step?" . Excellent food for thought.