• Robotic refusal: A good idea starts with a nasty query

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    I WAS with Bonnie who was trying to deposit an insignificant amount in a bank. It’s one of the good things in life when the word “workshop” as the core of my day-job can have an entirely new meaning. If you’re in consultancy, you know what it means married men “work” while their spouses “shop.” But that’s not the case of Bonnie who manages our family finances very well.

    That’s enough of apple-polishing.

    There were a couple of bank clients on that lazy Saturday afternoon. And so Bonnie and I were both seated in front of a young female clerk who was behind a counter with forms and several computers. She handed out several copies of three different pro-forma documents, many of which duplicate the required information for our personal data and signatures. At the same time, she asked us to produce at least two government-issued IDs.

    My forever-obedient Bonnie immediately filled-up the forms, while I protested: “Miss, we’d like to make it clear. We’re not borrowing money from your bank. Why make the process difficult for us?”

    The clerk smiled, appearing unperturbed. Bonnie softened the impact of what appeared to her as a nasty question: “He’s joking.”

    Fearing that it may evolve into a husband and wife dispute, I kept my peace and reminded myself of a Japanese wisdom: “If a problem can be solved, then it’s not worth worrying about it. If it can’t be solved, then it’s useless to worry about it.”

    I filled-up the forms in silence. After completing them all, I asked the clerk how much time she needs to complete the transaction. She replied, this time without smiling: “At least one hour.” Then I left in haste as Bonnie waited for the process to complete. I spent the rest of the afternoon window-shopping inside the mall.

    Maybe I’ve an overdose of kaizen (continuous improvement) thinking. Maybe people believe too much that Aldub is much more important that we are being blinded about the opportunities in process improvement. What if we were depositing P20 million in that bank, would my protest against lengthy processing of bank documents be waived?

    And I doubt if the clerk reported my “nasty question” to her superiors, which the Japanese, known for their “Customer Is King” policy, will consider of outmost importance as advocated by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller in their 2008 book “A Complaint is a Gift.”

    The trouble is that many of us don’t see the value of customer complaint, which may start from “nasty questions” probing an unfamiliar territory for true learning and improvement. For one, why does the bank want to know the name of my deceased parents? What’s the value of this information to my cash deposit? Or is this a regulatory requirement of Bangko Sentral?

    I worked for two banks before, and I was privy to many irrational work processes that were required by our bosses at the time. Looking back, there were many lessons that I’ve learned and if I sum it all up I can arrive at one conclusion: Major problems are composed of a complex, dense mass of interlocking minor problems, many of which can’t stand against logic.

    That’s why you can only make progress by creating and maintaining an army of problem-solvers who must be required to tackle these minor problems, one by one, rather than wait for grand solutions created by geniuses who are hard to come by in the first place.

    But what do I mean by an “army of problem-solvers?” It means, requiring all employees, regardless of their rank, title and educational background or even employment status to proactively identify work bottlenecks and propose solutions. It’s making problem-solving part of everyone’s key performance indicators (KPIs), like requiring at least one employee suggestion a month.

    It can be fun, too. When I was working for a bank, I remember proposing the idea of assigning only beautiful, actress-like tellers to man the deposit booth, while assigning only ugly, goon-like tellers to handle the withdrawal booth. It was an excellent idea accepted by management, in secret. As you can imagine, many of these solutions are common sense and practical.

    If thinking is not part of everyone’s KPIs, then let’s create a new buzzword in this light. Let’s call it “robotic refusal” – that is, when employees blindly follow stupid policies created by clueless, inept managers.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


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    1. I was opening a bank account long ago with the china bank. I filled in all the forms & the clerk said to me you need to take these & get them photo copied. I said if you want them copied you copy them. She said we dont have a photo copier. I said thats not my problem & she responded with well thats the way it is or something similar. I asked for the manager & told her my wife has an account with this bank & i want an account with this bank & that if the bank want a photo copy they ought to be the ones to get the photo copy. She told the clerk go & get it photo copied.
      The Philippines is miles behind the west when it comes to customer service. It needs a huge shake up.