The #1 Key to Not Frustrating Customers, Employees and Prospects

While it may not be intentional, you or your business are needlessly ticking off someone somewhere. Trust me, every company does. Sometimes it’s rather innocent (e.g. someone forgot to delete a calendar event on your website when the event was cancelled—and someone showed up), while other times it’s more deliberate (e.g. you haven’t fired Joe who’s careless with deliveries and often forgets to include an item).

But the number one issue that frustrates every customer, every employee and every prospect is …


Let me share with you two I’ve recently encountered so you can see this first hand.

1. Comcast and Stupid Systems

When my wife and I were making the move from Germantown, MD (outside of Washington DC) to Mount Pleasant, SC (outside of Charleston SC) I decided to go with Comcast because they were the only player with high-speed internet in our zip code. So as I was looking for how to contact Comcast to start our triple play package, I noticed a link titled, “Moving,”

Since we were moving this seemed like the most natural link to click on, correct? But alas, not so. Why? Because the first screen that comes up when you click on the moving link asks you to input your phone number!!!! Hello! This is why I was contacting Comcast. I didn’t have a phone number and wanted to get one. But you couldn’t access the MOVING link without having one (and there was no link to get past that screen like, “If you’re moving and don’t have a phone number yet …”). STUPID SYSTEM. It was totally frustrating.

The only way to get past it was to enter my old Maryland phone number which then sent me to the Maryland call center, where I had to share my story so they could send me to the Charleston call center etc. which not only wasted my time (and frustrated me), but cost them more money and staff time. But, and to me this was the most amazing part of the story, the problem was created by having a link that was specifically set up for people who were/are MOVING, but required a phone number to get to the next step in the process. STUPID.

2. Tenet Healthcare and Stupid Systems

My wife just started working at the local hospital here, which is owned by a larger company,Tenet. While I think every company ought to offer health coverage from day one, Tenet doesn’t do so until day 30. Okay. But what I’ve never seen before is that after day 30, before any family members will be covered (when an employee selects a family plan), that employee has to send in proof to verify that the spouse is their spouse and their kids are their kids. To me, this is fundamentally a STUPID SYSTEM.

Basically, it starts off with the assumption that the people they hire are all liars (i.e. a fundamentally flawed proposition). Note: Yes there are some people (i.e. a very small number) who will try to scam any system (which can even happen when you have checks and balances if they really want to cheat the system). But the system shouldn’t be set up where the first assumption is that 100% of employees are liars.

They could easily reverse their entire system by assuming that their employees are telling the truth and then asking that within 60 days that each employee sends in verification of the people they claim to be dependents. If they don’t, send a second letter and email, asking for verification within 30 days, and then a final letter/email a week out notifying that the non-verified person will no longer be covered if verification isn’t received by X date (though I think the whole verification process is rotten at its core). Why penalize everyone? Sooner or later, cheaters are found out and you deal with them then.

But beyond that, the fundamental idea behind a benefits program is to protect your most precious asset … your people. The goal is not to screw your employees or to provide them with the least amount of benefits possible. The goal is to provide and protect them (and their families) so that they can focus on serving your customers and clients without worry or fear.

That said, their system gets worse. My wife and I couldn’t provide proof of our 28 year marriage until AFTER they sent us a mail piece AFTER the 30 day period (again, stupid). We faxed the proof in (our marriage certificate and our last month’s bank statement with both our names on it). They didn’t receive it. We faxed it in again and again and again. Finally on the fourth attempt they said they received it (again, more bad systems). We then waited to get confirmation that I was covered. Nothing.

Finally, we received a letter in the mail stating that I was denied coverage because we didn’t send enough proof of marriage (how STUPID is that????). Why? Because, I know this is a shocker, but when you move, your last month’s bank statement has your old address on it (and they wanted our current address on it–I know shocker). Again, how stupid is that? Do they really think that all their employees who are moving from out-of-state just got divorced in the last 30 days? Remember, every assumption that Tenet is making assumes their employees are trying to scam them.

Of course, when I contacted Tenet to inquire about what was wrong we were told that we had missed their 15 day deadline to verify our marital status (hello, when you use the mail system and you don’t receive faxes, that happens) and that the only alternative to waiting until next January was to fill out an appeals form. So I said, “Okay, can you email me the form and I’ll get it to you in the next few minutes?” To which I was told, “We can’t do that. We have to mail it to you.”

Seriously? The mail system is the main reason why we have this problem in the first place. And in this day and age, to not use electronic means to send and receive information makes no sense. They could even have the appeals form on a webpage for any employee to download. But no, not Tenet. So, once again, we encountered multiple STUPID SYSTEMS. I could go on and on, but you get the point.

However, beyond all of the above, this STUPID SYSTEM has taken a great employee (my wife is a 23 year “veteran” Level Four nurse in Labor and Delivery) and soured her on her new employer for no reason at all. Why wouldn’t a company first choose to trust that their employees are telling the truth?

Personal note: My wife loves the people at the local hospital where she works. It’s the parent company, Tenet, that handles the benefits program. And the issue we’ve had with Tenet is not an uncommon one (i.e. our experience is not an outlier).

3. So How Do You Eliminate Stupid Systems?

Well, the problem is that you’re probably the worst person for this task. Why? If you haven’t watched my video on Tappers and Listeners, make sure you do so right now (it’s the first video on my speaking page. Click here >> Note: The title is about change but the point is about Tappers and Listeners). The reason why you’re probably the worst person for this task is because once you know something, it’s nearly impossible to ever remember what it was like to not know that thing. Plus, as the leader of your business, you’re too close to the system as a whole (in fact, in many small businesses, most of the systems are designed around you and your personality anyways).

That said, what can you do? Well,  you can make eradicating stupid systems a priority. You can cast vision for it. You can initiate efforts to discover stupid systems. And you can marshal resources to eradicate stupid systems. Plus, you can engage in some of the following behaviors and activities.

1. Take advantage of newbies (employees, customers, and even prospects).

For example, whenever I would hire a new employee, I would say something to them like this. “Over the next 30 days, you’re going to be one of my valuable employees because you’re going to see and observe things that all the rest of us around here can’t see because we’re already a part of the system.”

“So, over these next 30 days, I need you to be my eyes and ears. If you see anything or experience anything that you think is stupid or doesn’t make sense, I want you to know you have complete access to me. Don’t be afraid to bring anything up. There may be a good reason why we do what we do, but there may not be. There may be a better way but we can’t see it. However, after 30 days, your ability to see what we can’t see will decrease because you’ll be one of us.”

2. Ask a friend to be a “mystery shopper” to your website and business.

Ask them about their experience. Ask what was frustrating. Ask what information they wanted but couldn’t get or find? Probe. Dig. And repeat.If you ask the right people, you’ll get an earful.

3. Ask your employees.

This can be one of them most revealing and powerful actions you can take (if you can handle the truth, a la Jack Nicholson :-). Let your staff know you want to eradicate every stupid system in your business. Also, let them know that no system is exempt and that they won’t get in trouble for mentioning a system that they believe is stupid (however, no personal comments will be allowed, as in, “Sally in IT is the stupid system.”).

Make the list. Then prioritize it. Be honest about what systems won’t change and why (for example, switching out a $2M IT package may not happen over the next six months due to cash flow—though there could be a $50K bandage that would eradicate 90% of the problems), but—and this is the key—take immediate action on several items. Get several quick wins under your belt ASAP so your staff team knows you’re serious about this!!!

4. Try pretending to be a newbie.

I know I said that it’s difficult to “unlearn” what you already know, but try. Pretend you’re a prospect. Go to your website. Pretend you don’t know anything about your company. What would you want to know? Can you find it? Pretend you’re a customer and have a problem. Use your support system. Pretend you’re a new employee and try signing up for benefits all over again. Etc. If it’s been a long time since you did any of the above, the results may be eye-opening!

So what do you need to do to start eradicating the stupid systems in your business? Don’t put this off. You’re losing potential customers, money, and needlessly ticking off customers and employees when you don’t need to. In other words, this isn’t a “Nice to get around to it when I have the time” idea. This is an “I better get started working on this initiative this week,” idea. Every stupid system costs you something (e.g. time, effort, money, morale, customers, fans, referrals, money, etc.) when it doesn’t have to. So don’t let them!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other great stupid systems stories, feel free to write them below in the comments section (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS feed)

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