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.