Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The curious case of missing 'solution orientation'

One of the most frequent complaints that I have heard about the employees in BPO/Shared Service Centres is that they lack 'solution orientation'. While this complaint gets expressed in many other forms also, the essential issue is something like this: When there is a customer request, the employee does come up with a response within the time stipulated in the service level agreement (SLA). However, the response does not really help the customer/ does not solve the customer's problem adequately.

Often this is considered as an 'attitude issue' (e.g. lack of customer orientation/ unwillingness to go the extra mile etc.) and there is an attempt to address this by attitude training and/or pep talk. But this might not work as there are often deeper issues at the awareness, ability and structural levels.

In high growth - high attrition environments often employees are put on the job after basic training. While this enables them to take care of most of the standard scenarios, they have limited ability to respond in those cases where the customers requirement is (slightly)different from the standard/text-book scenarios. Also the employees have limited understanding of the customer's context and the desired outcome for the customer(beyond the immediate output requested). In addition to this there could be issues with the work-load and the way in which performance is measured. For example, if the employees are already overloaded it might be very difficult/impossible to 'go the extra mile' in most cases. Again the performance management system should have measures that recognize and reward going the extra mile.

Thus building solution orientation needs to go beyond attitude training. Based on the above discussion, we can say that some of the following ideas might worth looking at (depending on the context) in order to improve solution orientation.

(a) Help the employees to gain a better understanding of the customer expectations & the customer’s ‘frame of reference’/where they are coming from. Provide better ‘big picture’ understanding/build knowledge of the larger process and the impact of their work on the larger process( where only a part of the process is outsourced).
(b) Improve the capability and confidence level of employees. Encourage/enable the employees to build expertise in their area of work.
(c) Teach ‘general principles’ in addition to teaching the processing rules.
(d) Encourage people to think and not just do . Be less authoritative. Encourage people to take decisions and take responsibility for those decisions. Provide support/ ‘safety net’ so long as ‘reasonable care’ has been exercised.
(e) Provide manager support/encouragement & act as role models
(f) Enable employees to have a sense of achievement and create pride in being able to help the customer.
(g) Provide the room/space to ‘go the extra mile’(don’t overload the employees to an extent where it is impossible to stretch)

In addition to all this, it is very important to ensure that the employees themselves experience good responsiveness/solution orientation from the support services in the organization (like HR/Finance/IT/Admin. etc.). This also gives a strong message to the employees that responsiveness/solution orientation is a way of life in the organization.

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