Rigorous process does not equal great service experience

Overly rigorous processes are the enemy of meaningful customer experiences. Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it. Surely human delivery is the enemy of efficient processes, hence why so many organisations try to take the human out of service delivery altogether either by actually replacing them by machines, or by so tightly documenting their processes that they are asked to operate as little more than second-rate machines.

But the drive for consistent processes can leave services feeling sterile and those involved in the delivery of the service neutered. Exceptional service delivery requires us to empower those that deliver services by providing them with tools, decision frameworks and guidelines from which their human traits, such as warmth, engagement and empathy, can shine.

I was struck by two airline safety videos recently that embrace the kind of service delivery to which I refer:

It can be no coincidence that both airlines are bucking the financial trends within the airline industry. Their focus on service delivery and customer experience shows they are at a completely different level of organisational maturity when it comes to thinking about service.

These successes and approaches are not limited to airlines, but they do appear to be more prevalent in industries that are feeling the type of pain currently being felt by this sector.

“The computer says no”

By contrast, a recent stay at a hotel with my family revealed quite the opposite experience. We arrived early, as is my wont, and attempted to check-in to our room. Although the receptionist was able to inform us that our room was ready, she was unable to process us and provide us with an electronic key because the computer wouldn’t allow it to happen.

This “computer says no” customer service experience has been the norm for too many years. It is the embodiment of process over experience, of humans involved in service delivery being neutered of their powers to deliver good service.

Overly officious processes take all the personality out of a service experience and they make it impossible for staff to deal with customers who don’t play by the pre-defined rules.


I have just finished reading Tim Harford’s excellent book, Adapt. In one of the chapters towards the end he talks about successful adaptive organisations – those that respond well to changing markets and circumstances. He uses the examples of Whole Foods Market (US), Timpson (UK) and Google as highly decentralised environments where much of the decision-making is taken on the shop floor rather than in the board room.

Frameworks, tools and guidelines for local decision-making and service delivery are crucial elements to future proof an organisation for the fluctuations of their market. Highly documented and regimented processes just aren’t adaptive enough to deal with the types of conditions occurring in many industries.

That isn’t to say that old school homogeneity is about to die out overnight, or is completely irrelevant. But organisations that have taken the person out of the personality of their service are likely to be in for some painful times.

1 Comment
  • Daniel Szuc

    December 20, 2011 at 9:55 pm Reply

    Lots to be said for being human.


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