A couple of years ago I interviewed the director of the Dutch organisation for road assistance (de wegenwacht). I was impressed by their service and was curious how they organised and managed for such an impressive record of client service. It proved to be a combination of selecting the right people with both technical and people skills, training and empowerment of the people on the road. They do decide on how to solve the customer’s (often in despair) problem with the car and how to make sure the customer can happily and satisfied continue its journey. A nice story was about a woman who had to wait quit long for the assistance to arrive. The assistant found the problem within a minute, but stayed bent over the motor saying it was a difficult problem. After some time he said to have found problem and fixed it. He even made a small (not really necessary) test drive with the woman telling her he had to make sure that the problem was really fixed. So he spent half an hour on a problem that could be solved in five minutes. A stupid assistent? Not if you realise that having to wait for one hour to see your problem fixed in five minutes adds to the frustration as waiting for an hour to have a serious problem solved seems worth the trouble. The assistant understood this and being responsible for the satisfaction of the customer spent more time that strictly required. This kind of empowerment is engrained in the organisation.
But there was another part to the story and that had to do with something less visible for the customers, but proofs to as essential as the empowered assistant. And that is a superior and fully automated planning system for the dispersion of the assistants to the customer that need help. The planning system proofs crucial to allow for the empowerment, to reduce waiting time and to optimise the number of assistants needed given the various economical constraints.
The combination of the two ideas made me a very happy customer when my car broke down. When designing organisation one idea might not be enough for enduring beauty.