A lot of us say ‘No News is a Good News’, well, that doesn’t apply to Operations. When you are in the Services business, radio silence in operations doesn’t mean a lack of any good or bad news, it’s rather a lack of communication. The world of operations is a dynamic one, we balance several variables on any given day, some of them are in our control and some absolutely out of our control. But, as we sign-up as their Delivery Partners, the basic expectation of the customers is that the show must go on uninterrupted and as expected, irrespective of how the variables behave, except in a force majeure situation.
While we aspire for a predictable, surprise-free delivery, yet there are unexpected delivery exigencies and escalations across the delivery process. We can’t totally get away from these escalations, but we can manage the process better in terms of noise, impact, and outcomes. Here are five approaches to make it happen.
Bad News Doesn’t Get Better with Time (it only gets worse)
In operations, bad news does happen. It could be capacity and volume mismatch, the sudden spike in attrition, system outage, a big processing error, and so on. All these factors impact the customer’s business and if they are not resolved appropriately and in a timely manner, it results in customer dissatisfaction, ugly escalations, and even loss of business. As Operations Leaders, we sometimes fail to sense the issue, undermine it, or hesitate to flag it. Nevertheless, the issue would persist and so would be the damage. It’s important that we immediately flag the issue, discuss it with relevant stakeholders, work on a resolution and/or escalate it immediately, well before it comes as an escalation from the customer’s end. Then, it may be too late to react.
Always Presume Positive Intent
Very often, when an escalation comes from the customer, we try to paint a picture as if someone on the customer’s side doesn’t like us, behaves like that all the time, or the issue is too trivial and doesn’t deserve so much of noise. But if you think from the customer’s perspective, it’s quite likely that our issue will impact their ability to deliver to the end-customers. Thus, instead of undermining the issue, if we presume a positive intent, it would be far easier to align and address the issue.
Newton’s Third Law
Escalations defy Newton’s third law. For every small inaction, there would be lots of over-reaction, in the case of escalations. So, in the first place, we should avoid escalations, or identify the root cause at an early stage itself. But, since we failed to do so, we must get down to swift action and identify the big X that has driven the maximum negative impact, and build/execute a plan to arrest the decline right away. Otherwise, the recovery may take weeks, months, or quarters; and, this interim period would be difficult for both parties.
Dates In Calendar Happen Sooner Than They Appear
This sounds like the warning written on cars’ rear-view mirrors (objects in the mirror may be nearer than they appear). As we draft the action and recovery plans for the customer escalations, it’s essential that we evaluate all the contributing factors, weigh them against the time required to take corrective measures, along with the milestones plan and BAU dates as well. We tend to rush the design of the plan, often to demonstrate action and undermine the requisite lead-times to bear the improvements. Therefore, we need to look at the draft plan, review it well before committing it to the customers. Late submission of a plan is better than the late achievement of a milestone. Missing on the committed action plan will only add to the woes of escalation and will further impact the customer’s confidence.
Show The Needle Movement
Once we have the plan, we must focus on the execution. Escalations lead to noise, negative perceptions, and eventually some deficit of trust/confidence at the customer’s end. It takes a significant effort and time to change the perception and instill confidence again, more so, if the problem is deep-rooted and the recovery is expected over an extensive period. We must focus on a clear demonstration of the progress in the recovery phase. Pick one or two relevant metrics and show how the needle is moving in a positive direction since the initiation of the recovery; and, continue to look for objective measurements. We should focus on winning the credibility back, call for dialogue with their team to solicit feedback on the root-cause analysis, action plan, recovery progress, and specific support needed. Don’t rush the recovery review meetings, deliberate on the results, and, for sure, presume positive intent while getting questioned in the review meetings.
Customers are the ‘North Star’ of any business. It is essential to look beyond the processes or technology and deliver enhance experience and value to them. As a Delivery Partner, we need to stay alert, aligned, agile and always communicative.