Human interfaces necessary at Shared Service Centers!

At Defence, as a Commander of the Air Force Command staff (approx. 600 VTE'n) I was involved in the creation of the so-called service contracts between my unit and "shared service centres”, for facility services which are established in all Defence units now. The idea was that the units could be "care-free" and that efficiency gains could be achieved. In short, my only concern would be the performance of the primary tasks of the unit. Support would be provided for. Sounds good right?

Nothing was further from the truth. Youp van ‘t Hek once exposed the raw nerve of a large telecommunications company by sharing his dissatisfaction of the complaint handling. Many "service centers" work with call centers where telephone operators, who are accessible via a computer system, usually read the website of the company. Well, you obviously can do that yourself, that’s not what you’re calling for!

In response to the complaint of Youp, Arjan Dasselaar said:

"Although the (business) customer service of ... is always personable and friendly, the staff are usually not able to solve real problems. Such as: ordered but not delivered phones, and of course the network itself, which is more brackish than the water in the Drowned Land of Saeftinghe. "[1]

The moral is that, because the employees in the call centre are not actually able to place themselves in the sense of service for the customer, there is no real exchange of relevant information. It was relatively easy to agree on, in broad terms, what the shared service companies should deliver in my unit. Problem was that there always must be coordination between customer and supplier about the scope of delivery, the time and the price. It appeared that, like with Youp, my unit assumed a certain degree of flexibility in the supply, in order to tune this supply optimally to the primary processes within my unit. A contract is meaningless when people, both on the part of the customer as on the part of the supplier, don’t understand each other. That sounds logical, but in practice it is shocking to see who is engaged in making the contract and who is faced with the consequences. Especially in larger companies those are often not the same people.

Following the above problem, I started with what I call "the application of human interfaces". Each service must be tailored to the primary process in a company. That is something that a service provider can’t be accounted for, even though he seems to be customer friendly. Because his only interest is the provision of his service. The customer must indicate when he needs the service and what the quality should be. For that, you as a customer also need knowledge, which needs to be maintained. So I started to appoint people who regularly consulted the involved shared service centres and also supervised the execution of the service concerned. Thus arose the necessary mutual understanding and insight to agree on good mutual service. We're talking about the role of professional patronage. That role should not be placed on management level, but at executive staff who know each other inside out.

[1] The leeches of T-Mobile By Arjan Dasselaar 30 october 2010