Picture this; three lovely BBB ladies sitting at Brisbane’s Southbank on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, enjoying a catch up over a glass of bubbles, when cracks suddenly appeared in our world. 

Lyn was updating the group on the quality workshops she was about to run across Australia for AusContact, and how it seems that many customer operations struggle to get their quality management working for both customer and business. “It’s sad” she said, “as it’s such a critical thing for business to get right, and can often reveal frustrations for customers that could easily be prevented by the business.”

And then, like a bolt from the blue, her point was illustrated perfectly: our cheese platter arrived and it looked very pretty. Then we realised there were only 6 small crackers on the plate. Six! Between three of us. Only two each. 

Really? Really??? What’s the point in pretty if it leaves us hungry?

But wait, it gets worse.

For a few moments we sat in silent incredulity until Leanne recovered enough to call over the waiter and politely inquire if there had been a mistake. Apparently not – he even looked surprised at the question. So, Lyn asked “Can you please bring us some more?” “I’ll have to check” he said and disappeared for many minutes. “It will cost an extra $2” he announced on return. With resignation we agreed to the extra charge and were provided an additional ten crackers. Ten…for $2!!! A little while later some people sat down at the next table and we witnessed the cheese platter chatter happen over again. Hmmmm…..does this sound familiar? 

So much went wrong here, including:

  • A product and service that didn’t meet the customer expectation or need
  • A staff member who was neither engaged nor empowered
  • No mechanism in place to capture a recurring problem that was seriously impacting customer satisfaction (we were whinging and the people next to us were even worse but no-one cared!) 
  • A ridiculous cost saving (a box of crackers only costs $2!!) at the cost of a customer (none of us would ever go there again) 

Was this an isolated incident?

Not really. A week later Lyn came to Perth and the cheese platter at a lovely café overlooking the beach wasn’t much better. Eleven crackers but some very runny chutney and an apple that had seen better days. Hardly inspiring: 

We’re becoming good at this so the next day Lyn flew off to Adelaide where she and Leanne sampled SA generosity. Now that’s a cheese plate:

Small cafes in a very competitive marketplace need every customer to leave happy. Surely it’s not that hard to balance substance with aesthetics? I am sure these café owners didn’t set out to upset their customers – what business does? They just didn’t have an effective quality management system in place.

“Well”, I hear a few people say, “that’s small business…I’m in a big organisation and we have entire departments doing QM.” Good, but I said effective quality management.

In the last couple of weeks dealing with big business, I’ve experienced:

My phone needed replacing so I went to the Telstra shop to organise an upgrade. Did my research online beforehand so I knew exactly what I wanted. In and out – a five-minute transaction. Yep…nope. Telstra staff said they were too busy and sent me to JB Hi Fi. Surely this was an opportunity to lose my business entirely! Anyway, I went to JB Hi Fi and the process took an hour. Yes, an hour! Not JBs fault – it was the Telstra process. I was reading the screens over the staff member’s shoulder and couldn’t believe how longwinded the whole thing was. Telstra, please streamline your systems and processes or I’m going somewhere else as I will NEVER do that again. Oh, and your feedback survey you emailed me? Was only focused on whether I liked my bill. Are you afraid to ask about the process because you already know the answer? Are your systems so familiar to you that you don’t realise we expect better? Or am I just too small to matter?

Then my iPad battery died. I went into the Apple shop. “You need to make an appointment and we can’t fit you in until next Tuesday”. An entire week. How ridiculous!
Did they offer me a loaner iPad in the interim? No. So I make the appointment and walk out. Into a world full of advertising.
Here’s a question – after a week without an iPad will I decide I don’t need to bother? Will I replace it with a new device instead, in which case maybe another brand will catch my eye? Apple’s process seems like such an arrogant disregard for the customer.
Apple, you need customers – never let one walk away disappointed! I wonder if they will chase me if I don’t come in….as part of their QM system…. but by then it might be too late. What’s the cost of attracting a new customer, Apple?

Again, I’m sure that both Telstra and Apple intend to have efficient service, great products, helpful staff and satisfied customers. And a profit. 

So what goes wrong?

Sometimes we get so caught up in the workload that our QM systems lose their way or become out of date and we don’t even notice. It becomes about ticking boxes and meeting quotas, or we get distracted by some new trend (like plating-up for Master Chef) or the latest in technology. Technology is great but let’s face it, digitising poor processes just leads to faster rubbish! And remote call monitoring in call centres has its place but there is no substitute for side-by-side coaching. Just because technology allows us to do it, doesn’t mean it adds value.

And sometimes our measurements don’t even make sense. I was doing some work with an organisation just recently that’s trying to grow a new stream of business. Now, this is a very respected and successful business but for some strange reason they were measuring their grade of service per week, instead of per half-hour interval. So for them that meant they were happy if 30% of their customers each week were experiencing unacceptably high wait times which, of course, is not conducive to selling the new product. When I pointed this out to them they couldn’t have been more surprised if I’d hit them with a wet fish! They were ticking the box – target met – but the target wasn’t adding value to the business, and certainly wasn’t going to achieve the real target of growing the new line of business. But they hadn’t realised. Like I said, this is a highly respected business – even the best of the best can struggle with this stuff.

So what do we need to do?

Every business can benefit from doing a periodic critical review or health check on their QM system, auditing each component of the framework:

Yep, that does sound like a chunk of work. Still not convinced you need to do it? Have a think about the following for each area of your business (by product or service):

Do you know what your customers currently expect? Have you asked them lately?  Without bias…. we only get the answer we are looking for when we craft a biased question, so don’t fall into that trap.  Periodic capturing of real and valuable feedback from customers is a critical part of a QM system.

Where’s your industry heading?  Technologically?  Economically?  Socially?  If you don’t prepare you could get left behind or miss an opportunity your competitor seizes.  No-one likes playing catch-up!

If you were redesigning your products or services to meet your client’s and business needs, with no legacy systems or structures, what would they look like?  The differences you identify are probably sources of irritation for customers (read complaints, refunds, closures and other costly problems….) and sources of inefficiency (read costs, non-compliance, OSH issues….) for your business.  Your QM should be pointing these out to you and capturing the cost (read business case) for making changes.

Perhaps your products are fine but what about how you deliver them? Are your processes designed to deliver these products with the least fuss, cost and time possible?  Have a look and see what opportunities for streamlining, digitising or abolishment exist. 

Next think about compliance.  Are your processes and policies being followed?  Do staff comply when they should and escalate when appropriate?  And talking of staff, are they competent, efficient, professional, skilled, enthusiastic….and so on?  Do your leaders lead or are they just tick boxing their to-do lists each day?

So, if my story today has got you thinking, then maybe it’s time to review your Quality Management system’s effectiveness so you don’t find yourself on the wrong end of hungry women with only 6 crackers to share!  I wouldn’t wish that on any of us.

And of course, if you’d like some help then that’s what we’re here for.  Our expertise is in customer experience and business effectiveness, so we can help you with advice, the latest ideas from across the world, or we can even do the review for you. 

Don’t delay.  Contact us now to get your QM working for you.  Here are some contact details to get you started:


Call Lyn on 0408 889 209 or Email: lyn.trewenack@bbbadvisory.com.au


Call Leanne on 0409 286 658 or Email:leanne.robinson@bbbadvisory.com.au

WA and NT

Call Helen on 0412 778 932 or Email: helen.campbell@bbbadvisory.com.au

We’d love to hear from you.

Better Thinking I Better Performance I Better Results