Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)
Sometimes, in a work environment, I hear this or something like it; and I twitch.
“We’ll need to make sure there’s a consistent process.”
Really, I hear you say? That’s it? Is that all it takes to set you off? Well, you should see my reaction when someone says ‘Jedward’. But I digress.
I hear people advocate for consistency as if it’s the first thing to be achieved, and I get annoyed because that’s wrong. It is not correct to say that the most important thing about a process is that it’s always the same. The most important thing about any process is that it does what it is supposed to do. That is the absolute top number one most important thing. It’s what it’s for. That is all.
The next thing on the priority list, for me, is that it isn’t any harder than it needs to be. It shouldn’t take too long, it shouldn’t cost too much, it shouldn’t mandate a particular browser or operating system or timezone or level of education unless that is completely essential for some reason. Now here is where the fallacy creeps in; making something simple, surely, means giving people a process to follow? A nice, simple, consistent process? Haha jargonaut, looks like you just argued yourself in a circle and disproved your own point.
No. Quiet down, you in the cheap seats, and pay attention. Simple != easy != consistent. And even if they were all the same thing, who are you trying to make things easy for, anyway? You’re trying to make it easy for you, that’s who. If you talk about consistency – a standard form, a procedure manual, a set of data entry codes, set opening times – it’s to make your life easier. Well, who cares about you? Was your department created to make sure you had a nice straightforward job with no hassle? No, it was not. It was created to provided something to your customers, and they should not have to suffer just because you like 1-page forms, or don’t like answering queries before 11am. You’re free to make any changes you need to at your end to complete your tasks more efficiently; but as soon as that spills over into someone’s experience of the service, as soon as it inconveniences your customers, you’re doing it wrong.
Giving top priority to consistency says this; you don’t care how bad the customer experience is, how long they have to wait for resolution, how badly they are treated, how much time and money they waste waiting for you to get it together. No, what’s important is that everybody has the same experience. Consistently appalling is still consistent, right? So, target achieved. Congratulations! You’ll probably win an award or something.
This is how we end up with template letters that address us as “Dear Mr Householder Surname Not Known” and tell us nothing useful. This is why call centres are only good at things that can be resolved in under 3 minutes. And when we talk to our friends about the times we’ve been pleasantly surprised by a service, what do we remember? I remember Sue who called me at work to tell me an appointment had been cancelled, because she knew I wouldn’t get the standard letter in time. I remember Asha at the bank who got to the end of her script then said “I agree. You’re right” and refunded the charges. I remember the specialist who said “The most effective treatment for this isn’t available on prescription, but you can buy it from Boots and I know it works because I have used it for my son’s glue ear.” We remember the people who weren’t afraid to be inconsistent if it meant they could actually help us properly.
Now don’t get me wrong, consistency isn’t necessarily a bad thing. we all like to know what to expect, but if I could write a list of all the things I’d like to be fairly predictable, the spacing of boxes on my Tax Credit renewal forms wouldn’t be likely to make my top ten. My list would start off like this;
Dear Jim, please can you fix it for these things to happen.
1) Services I use not to keep changing address.
2) People I have to deal with to be polite even at 4.15pm on a Friday.
3) Phone numbers I need to call have a person on the other end who actually works for that service or can put me through.
4) People who deal with my queries to know what they’re talking about and how to help me.
5) The cost of things I need not to go up too much or too often.
Call me crazy, but I like to think my customers have similar expectations to mine. Who’s with me?