25 September 2009

Capacity-based Triggers As De Facto Enterprise Rules

Here's a de facto enterprise rule. It may be an enterprise's intentional rule, but more often than not, it's a de facto one.

RULES Customer-perceived rule: If you can't reach the sales office (Carbonite) you can't purchase the service.
Enterprise rule: If inbound sales exceeds n calls / hour, push all calls to voice mail.

From an enterprise's perspective -- the seller in this instance -- the sales office's inaccessibility may be unintentionally salutary. It limits customer volume at a time when the enterprise's infrastructure and staff may be unable to handle the volume. Of course, sales are lost, and customers must question why the sales staff is unavailable during peak daytime periods, but the enterprise rule could serve its purpose, at least as a stopgap measure during an unusual circumstance.

Later facts that came to light about Carbonite (a hosted provider of backup services) suggest that this rule may not be de facto in their case, but nevertheless a capacity-based trigger such as inbound phone sales inquiry volume remains an illustrative use case.

23 June 2009

Risky Editorial Workflow Can Sabotage Product Evaluations

Recently a colleague attempted to post a product evaluation for Origins, an Estee Lauder brand. An initial product review submission was rejected because it mentioned a non-Estee product. After excising the offending language, the review was resubmitted. It was rejected again. My dogged colleague was determined to post a review, and requested an explanation. This time the Company said it had made a mistake, and permitted the post (after an "up to 72 hours" delay).

Workflow for editorial review of product evaluations and customer-submitted commentary may prove increasingly important, as such postings may prove long-lived, and potentially quoted and spidered far beyond the original post. Eloquent or prolific posters can be influential, with opinions that spread virally beyond the original scope. Enterprises must develop efficient but sound editorial practices to respond to product evaluations sensibly, with both transparency and consistency.

23 May 2009

Enterprise Rules in the Heat of the Moment

The Times-Reporter relays a story about a Verizon call center refusal to help the Ohio State Highway Patrol find a man in obvious distress by using the man's cell phone signal. According to the report, the reason given by Verizon was a $20 balance due on the phone.

The story is making its way around Twitter and will reverbate in ways the Verizon workflow architect may never imagined. Those working in public /private utilities have a responsibility to plan for extraordinary and infrequent situations. When I worked in a call center for a large heating oil firm in the Northeast, this usually meant instructing agents in how to recognize such situations and, sometimes, to escalate the call.

The general rule, "Provide no service if there are unpaid bills" may be tempered by subrules that assess the longevity of the account, the amount due, or the reason for the assistance call -- and that's just a few of the possible exceptions. There may be privacy or legal issues, which the reporter in the Verizon Ohio case does not mention. Withholding heating oil deliveries in Massachusetts in February can be a matter of life or death for the infirm or elderly. This was a technique used by some delinquent customers to obtain deliveries -- which is why the workflow rules must be decided in advance, not on the spot in the heat [sic] of the moment.

Another consideration is agent training and software access to enterprise rules. A lightly trained agent on a busy day might feel it easier to follow the rule without exploring exceptions than a well-trained and well-rested agent. That said, a call from the Ohio HP should have been exceptional enough trigger another look at the Verizon rule book. Asking the HP to pay the bill in order to locate a man after an 11-hour search seems, on the surface, to merit the ridicule the Verizon is likely to receive from the re-tweets and a Slashdot post.

17 May 2009

Big Loan Servicers Lack Rules Agility

As shown convincingly on an NPR report by Chris Arnold, smaller loan servicers may be more capable of developing foreclosure avoidance strategies than the loan servicing organizations owned by the big banks. Conventional wisdom has it that bigger organizations achieve economies of scale that increase value to shareholders. In a crisis such as the current mortgage crisis in the U.S., there's cause to question that wisdom. The banks themselves are usually the big losers when properties are foreclosed. When workout loans can be developed to salvage some part of the loan, sometimes simply by reducing the interest rate, banks avoid huge losses when the property is liquidated. There are complications, such as accounting rules and other issues that complicate the matter, but the NPR story shows that . A casual web search for loan servicing software shows products such as LoanLedger, which purport to support this type of analysis. The issue may be training, not technology, but on the surface, it appears that big servicers lack the agility to adapt to new market conditions, even when the economic incentive is compelling. In the NPR story, the smaller firm interviewed relayed a 2007 conversation with a large bank-run servicer in which the latter admitted they would be unable to prepare for the changes that would come about should the market suffer a severe downturn of the sort that was becoming clear at the time of the meeting.

22 February 2009

Computer Aided Medical Diagnosis

The story begins like this.

" 'O.K., I’m glad it’s not lupus,' the middle-aged man said with a sad, rueful smile. He turned to look at the medical student who brought him the news of yet one more disease that it turned out he didn’t have.' "

From NYT Magazine article:

"It’s a truism in medicine that difficult diagnoses are most likely to be made by the most or least experienced doctors. The most senior have a wide set of experiences to draw on. Whatever the diagnosis, there is a good chance that they have seen it. The novice doesn’t count on experience for guidance. His head is still stuffed with all the possibilities he read about in school — the rare diseases just as common in his experience as the more usual ones. The fact that the doctors caring for this patient had no experience with this disease but were well aware of the potentially fatal consequences of treatment made a difficult diagnosis even more so. In this setting, making a diagnosis is not simply an act of reason; it is a leap of faith."

-Lisa Sanders