Include Brain Power in Your Processes

Let’s spend a moment and consider just how much pain you could remove from a customer’s life by asking for ideas from your staff.

To do this, let’s look at an idea that’s currently under consideration to replace the workflow in a customer identification process.

A customer identification process was imposed on most Canadian firms several years ago, with the passing of PIPEDA (a federal act governing the protection of personal information and electronic documents) and its parallels in various of the provinces.

Ever since then, whether the customer contacts the company, or whether the company contacts the customer, nothing can happen until the customer is positively identified.

This is done with a structured series of questions, processed as a workflow: name, address (in full), telephone number, date of birth, etc.

There is no escape from this: the customer cannot waive their “protection”.

Furthermore, for married couples, one spouse cannot act for the other even when they are allowed to under the law: first one must call in and be identified, then the other goes through the same process.

People get angry about this. Employees take the brunt of that.

What, asked an employee one day, if a customer could establish a positive identification with fewer questions?

Suppose the customer provided us with a question unique to them, and likewise an answer for same. Suppose they authorized this shortened form of authentication. Suppose we restricted the questions so that ones that would be easy to find (especially in the Age of Google) wouldn’t be allowed.

Suppose as well they could authorize someone with power of attorney, or a spouse, to act on their behalf, and that person was given a unique question, and answer, with which to conduct that person’s affairs.

Wouldn’t all this be sufficient to protect their privacy (after all, address, telephone number, date of birth and the like are very easy to find) and wouldn’t we spend far less time — perhaps 45 seconds instead of 4 minutes — verifying (which would save us money) and wouldn’t the customer perceive us as offering far better service?


Well, what, indeed! Organizations defaulted to using the information they had on file to “protect customers”.

The Acts do not offer the opportunity for the customer to waive protection. But, with a little add-on in the customer records, it would be easy to modify the process.

I’d like to tell you this story had a happy ending, but at that particular company it did not. Other companies, however, have done similar simplifications — and are reaping the market share and cost benefits.

Most organizations don’t treat the people who do very routine jobs — such as working in a call centre — as though they have much to contribute.

The fact is that they do. Call centres are filled with mothers who returned to the workforce after years as an at-home parent (establishing and juggling the schedules of a number of children, plus managing a home, creates many skills and insights that usually aren’t tapped); fairly new immigrants to the country (who have language skills and insights into customer cultures that are seldom drawn upon); and young people in first jobs (who are quite capable of seeing long-established “ways of doing things” with new eyes, but are often shunned when they question practices).

For rapid productivity opportunities, pay attention to the brain power of everyone, not just the experts.

Even when you decide not to run with an idea, the fact of your being open to them resonates and translates into greater satisfaction and staff retention.

In other words, there’s a lot to gain and practically nothing to lose, so why not talk to the people who work here?

One last thought for IT people: simplify!. Sometimes the right answer is to allow a human being to use their brain power in the process, not to figure all the use cases out and encode everything. Just a thought.

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About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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