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.


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