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The art of being efficiently ineffective
by Steve Dines
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The art of being efficiently ineffective.

“Mission and vision dictated will always fail, therefore, a top-down strategy requires a bottom-up response to be effective”. Dr. Alan Dowler, Cardiff University.

When preparing to leave the UK in 2007, to move permanently to Canada, I made a lot of phone calls to customer service teams; energy suppliers, local government offices, insurance companies, telephone service providers and so on. My goal was the leave the UK with all my accounts paid in full and suppliers aware that I was leaving the country.

Looking back on this experience to evaluate the “performance” of customer service personnel, there were several key factors involved.

Firstly, could I get through to speak to someone fairly quickly? I don’t mind the automated phone systems as long as there is an option for me to use, in this case “Moving” or “other assistance required” was sufficient for my purposes.

Secondly, did the customer service representative listen to what I was saying, that is, did they pay attention, make notes on my file and take the appropriate actions for my requests to be completed to the correct standard and at the right time?

Thirdly, did an individual customer service representative have the ability and environment to work as part of a team? In other words, if I called on several occasions and spoke to a different person each time, was there continuity to the conversation and the progress of my request?

As I went through the process of closing down all my business in the UK, it seemed to me that compared to twenty of thirty years ago, customer service in 2007 was, in the main, far superior. However, there was one major exception.

My energy supplier had started as a local company and then been bought up by a “bigger” energy company. So customer service was moved to another part of the country and a new set of procedures for final meter readings and production of final bills was implemented. I asked for someone to come to the house and take final meter readings (the old way) but the new system required me to read the meters and then phone the details through to an automated telephone answering system. Now you can guess what happened.

I read the meters, got all the paperwork together and phoned the number given. It took me two calls and at least twenty minutes to get everything recorded, but I had this nagging little doubt that this “system” would bring about a successful conclusion to the matter.

Having arranged for a redirection of postal service to my sister, it was a few months later she received a demand for payment. This is what I refer to as, “the art of being efficiently ineffective”. What doubled the faux-pas in this case was that I had a monthly contract that was paid in advance and a final bill would only be raised if I had exceeded my energy allowance under the contract

The top-down strategy of the energy supplier was designed for efficiency, that is, get more done with less. This episode was a classic case of “time and motion” study showing that it is a waste of time and resources to send a person to read a meter or have a person listen to a customer with the meter reading. Conclusion; put in an automated system. But when that system does not work as planned or fails to “see” or “predict” the needs of the customer, there is no opportunity for the “bottom-up” response to make the system effective.

Probably my worst experience with this kind of problem has been with a telephone company in Canada. I don’t want to go into all the details as it will take pages and pages for me to explain. Suffice to say that the “system” did not facilitate the fact that what I was sold could not be provided in my area (high speed internet service through a telephone line).

What ensued was hours and hours of phone calls, invoices sent to me for a service that was never provided in the first place and so on and so on.

“Mission and vision dictated will always fail” means that without listening to people below, the people at the top are wasting their breath. “A top-down strategy requires a bottom-up response to be effective” means that without the consultation and participation of people at the bottom (and that includes customers and service users) even the best made plans will come to nothing.

I think this is why Jesus came to earth as a man in the way that He did; born in a stable and raised in a basic home environment. The Father’s “top-down” strategy needed a “bottom-up” response to be effective. Also, I don’t think Jesus can ever be accused of trying to dictate His vision and mission to us; He lived for them and died for them.

I think this is where the body of Christ today has much to learn from the way of the Lord Jesus Christ; He fulfilled the plans and purposes of God, not by creating a huge organisation with lofty strategies requiring huge amounts of money and resources, but by responding to God as a servant, at the bottom.

So God listened to Jesus, made note of His requests and acted (continues to act) on His behalf.

Sobering isn’t it?

Read more articles by Steve Dines or search for other articles by topic below.

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