There are fifty million ways to frustrate your customers, but one of the most infuriating is red tape overwhelm. When was the last time you went to pay for a service (that couldn’t be done online) and you first had to go to department A to fill out the forms, then wait for them to be approved by a Supervisor, then go to department B for stamping, then on to department C to answer questions? See? Even this sentence was lengthy.
When customers talk about their pain points, “too much bureaucracy” is always one of the usual suspects. Almost makes you wonder if the intention of some businesses is to make it as hard as possible for customers to conduct business. Rationally, of course, this is not the case, but why a business would not go out of its way to create customer-friendly processes and procedures, is beyond my understanding. Newsflash!!! Great service is about minimizing customer pain and maximizing customer pleasure.
Bureaucracy is a pain. Whilst we all appreciate the need for checks and balances, the point of diminishing returns should not ever kick in. When bureaucracy thrives in a business, efficiency stagnates, innovation is restricted, employees suffer procedural fatigue and worse, customers quit because the experience is so burdensome. It’s usually easy to see the culprits behind the culprit. Cumbersome processes; too many layers of (sometimes unnecessary) approval; too many forms to fill, often with duplication of information; low level automation and process rigidity. A stand-alone challenger is the preservation of the status quo i.e. the “this is how we do it and we’re not ready to change” position. It’s amazing that the reasons why some procedures were created no longer exist, but the procedures continue to outlast the conditions, even when the need for change becomes so loud that it’s deafening.
Is your business suffering from bureaucratic overload? If any of the previous examples are part of your business style, please continue reading. We’re taking a look today at suggestions that can help businesses to reduce or flatten bureaucracy, to the delight of their customers.
Customers love to experience ease of doing business, convenience and flexibility when they conduct business. The first point of contact is an early inflection point in their journey that should be about resolution and progress, not bureaucracy and circular motion. Enter the frontline experience.
Make it easy for the receptionist and frontline security officer to reduce bureaucracy and accelerate the resolution. I recall a simple but really customer centric experience of going to a client and discovering that I had been partially signed-in by the security officer. She had been told that I was on my way and took the initiative of making my sign-in seamless. That simple act of reducing bureaucracy made my day.
A well-known business that requires you to go through a health and safety orientation session whenever you visit, now allows you to go through the session at home, sign-in from your home and print your own visitor’s card, prior to your visit, so that the sign-in procedure is seamless and quick, allowing you to join the “no wait” section.
Untangle processes and simplify procedures.
The road to completing a procedure should be straight, not long and winding. Going back and forth between form filling, Supervisor’s signature and Manager’s approval is often too circuitous. Businesses need to stop being handcuffed to their procedures and to encourage flexibility in finding solutions to customers’ needs. I recall the many times that I have played ping pong with service representatives, when the answer to a situation was simply a flexible option to be followed on their part. The real problem was their reticence at taking a bold decision that would have gotten them into trouble with the overlord, who may not have taken kindly to not being consulted.
Give Frontline Staff more authority to make decisions.
Another thing, decision making should be brought as close to the customer as possible. This means releasing junior staff from having to escalate every decision to the Supervisor. Constant escalation lengthens the process and incinerates the customer’s emotions. Surely it can help to have the Supervisor show up at just the right time to sign-off on as many documents as possible in one shot. Alternatively, why not train frontline staff to take wise decisions, coach them on how to make customer pleasing decisions and then support their choices? Once staff members get past some inevitable missteps in the early stages, everybody begins to win with this move.
Host staff brainstorming sessions.
Hosting staff brainstorming sessions that address the need to reduce bureaucratic overload can yield some remarkable ideas. Make it easy for employees to bring improvement suggestions forward and reward them for progressive thinking. Nothing stimulates innovation as the encouragement of bright ideas. Years ago, I worked at a company that rewarded staff every month, via a Bright Ideas program, for their business and process improvement suggestions,. The ideas bucket was always overflowing and bureaucracy was kept low, intentionally.
Wise thinking tells us that “things get done when the focus is on action.” Reality shows us that safety often lies in sticking with familiar, repetitive actions (that often stagnate progress).
Maybe this is why there are so few unicorn businesses. Maybe it’s because the majority of businesses are crammed into the reality section and focussed on preserving what’s familiar.