I love coffee. But I really am a coffee snob. I refuse to drink coffee that isn’t amazing. Life’s too short to drink bad coffee (or bad wine, for that matter). So every day I begin with a mug of home-made, freshly percolated coffee that I enjoy in my car on the way to work. But, on most mornings, one cup of coffee just won’t cut it. On those mornings, when an extra fix is required, I’ll stop and buy myself and my colleague (who also starts work at the crack of dawn) a delicious cup of piping hot coffee to help get us going. This, however, is not a story about coffee or the merits of drinking it. It is, in fact, a story about service, or rather customer service and the obsolete processes companies make their employees follow.
On one ‘I-need-two-cups-of-coffee-today’ morning, I stopped at a well-known fast-food chain that happens to make a really good cappuccino (albeit small and not cheap). I ordered my two coffees at the window and, when asked how many sugars I’d like with them I responded, as I always do, ‘No sugar, thank you’. I paid for my cappuccinos and drove through to the next window to collect my order.
I watched as the woman made the coffee (read: pressed a button on the machine) then went on to painstakingly select three brown and three white sugar packets from her big cardboard box of supplies, and fold them very neatly and carefully along with two spoons in two serviettes. I did try to save her and her company time and money by telling her that I didn’t need sugar, but she ignored me and continued to fold away. Obviously she has a process she has to follow or the world will explode into a gazillion pieces and, regardless of the peculiarities of the customer (not wanting FREE sugar, for example) she will absolutely NOT deviate from any steps in that process.
And as I drove off with my unwanted, FREE sugar, I thought about another service experience I’d had recently where a process was followed despite it being a waste of (my) time. A friend of ours had a baby shower on Saturday and she’d asked that we purchase a gift for her from a large baby accessory shop where she had a registry. Her invite informed me that I need only quote the reference number at any branch and the items she wanted could be accessed. This made me glad as it meant I didn’t have to drive 30km to buy a gift from the branch she’d registered at in Alberton!
I left work a few minutes early on my way to a launch and stopped in at the shop. And the fun began. I asked six people (SIX) how I’d go about buying a gift off a baby-shower gift registry before I found a person savvy enough to give up in the face of adversity and direct me to the manager’s office. This run around is obviously a major flaw in the process – I wasn’t asking for something strange, like a pair of teal leg warmers for a cat – this is a service they proudly offer to their customers. Anyway, I eventually found the manager who proceeded to telephone the branch where the gift list was registered and asked them to fax (yes, in 2013 people still use fax machines!) the list through. What I was given (15 minutes later) was a page with items typed on it and black lines drawn through the already purchased items. That was how the gift list was updated. Manually. With a pen and a ruler. This meant that if someone forgot to cross off an item, the list would be rendered null and void. Another process that was followed for the sake of following a process that doesn’t really have a point. I got so frustrated with the useless list that didn’t name products by brand, but rather by barcode, that I ended up buying things I had found to be useful for me.
So it appears that people are being taught to follow processes and procedures, because they offer some level of standardisation and are meant to provide security to the store and to customers. But what they serve to do is waste time and irritate customers when they are pointless and outdated. And they waste money. Imagine how much money could be saved by a multinational organisation if every person who didn’t want sugar with their coffee wasn’t given three sugars to throw away? The mind boggles with the possibilities…