Removing the human element from customer service removes the intelligence

I had a tough day today, but maybe tomorrow will be a bit calmer.

As with many organisations, ours has adopted an automated system for distributing job tickets to the field force.

It is mostly a clean and efficient system and passes the calls to the correct person but, being a computer program, cannot take the human element into consideration. When our calls were phoned through to us by a team of dispatchers they could use their common sense to make sure that one engineer didn’t get swamped with calls when another sat two counties away twiddling his thumbs.

When life works according to the model used by the system designers, all is well. But today was a little stressful as my colleague who covers the area of southern England immediately to my north decided that he needed a day off. His calls automatically overflowed into my list and I found myself having to choose who to let down. There was a call two and a half hours' drive away where I knew the customer needed to be back working quickly and I chose to let down three customers in my area who I knew could manage until the next day. My stats will show that I missed those ETAs, but I feel that it is the workflow that is important -- not the fancy pie charts that the management team pin up around their offices.

You can imagine that the work flow model is a somewhat utopian ideal but what really worries me is that it is seen as a rigid rule rather than a guide. If we were to work to the model, we would never work outside our own areas, we would never take holidays or be ill, never take time out to attend training courses or meetings. In addition, each call would take the same time to complete and would be exactly the same distance from the last one, because those charts used by the designers only use averages -- not real situations. As you can imagine, not many of my calls conform to the model; I rely on the ones that are close to each other to free up travel time for the distant ones, but today that was not possible.

Today was a busy day with a lot of calls coming in, covering an area approximately 120 miles by 75 miles. I spent a lot of time driving the highways and byways of Merrie England taking the most urgent calls and calling the less urgent ones, offering my apologies to the unlucky customers. Not everyone was happy, but I had to be realistic. Even a superhero like myself cannot be in two places at once.

Hopefully tomorrow will be less arduous and the remaining calls, which are all fairly close together, can be completed without too much racing around and without consuming too much petrol.

Ah well, tomorrow, as they say in all the finest old films, is another day.