As an industry analyst I am always looking at new technology innovations and new approaches that help companies transform their business process. There are some technologies that I have been seeing that are really excellent at adding robustness and sophistication to help companies transform the customer experience. But every once in a while you come across a business process example that makes you stop in your tracks and think about the small business process issues that can undue all the innovation.
Let me give you a real life example that got me thinking about this issue. An individual I knows owns rental property. It is a multi-unit house in the middle of a city. Needless to say, it needed insurance against potential disasters. My friend, being a responsible landlord sent his payment into his insurance provider. In fact, he set up a process with his bank so that his payment would be automatically sent out each month. Things were going great until one day my friend got a check from his insurance provider for “overpayment”. This really puzzled my friend since a process was in place for automatic payment. That process seemed to be working fine. After numerous calls to the insurance company he finally got to the bottom of this complex business process problem. It seems that the company has a funny way of creating customer account numbers. The first seven digits of the number are the account number; the next two digits are the number of years that the policy has been in place. My friend has put all nine digits in the account number field in his online payment system. Unfortunately, for my befuddled friend, no where on the insurance company statement did it suggest that those last two digits had nothing to do with the customer account number. So, basically, the payment was rejected because the year field was added. The company simply had not anticipated that anyone would not understand their process.
Now, I am sure that my friend wasn’t the only customer on the planet that thought that all nine digits were the account number. The happy ending is that the insurance was reinstated.
But here is the issue that I started thinking about. I suspect that this company spent a lot of money on its business process strategy, buying technology and tools. And they are pretty proud of their efforts. But it is so easy to get caught up in the broad process issues and forget the small issues like the structure of the customer account number. However, the reality is quite important. Take the example of my friend’s insurance company. If there were a few hundred customers who all made the same mistake it could result in an unanticipated loss of revenue. And in the future, those customers may decide that they really can’t trust their insurance provider and will choose to move to another insurance company.
An account number confusion problem will probably never be noticed by the management team. No one is going to call a meeting to discuss the fact that customers are confused by how we print our account number on our bills. But the reality may be that this small business process mistake made by an innocent programmer somewhere in the world can impact a company in a big way. I guess it isn’t a huge momentus issue in the full spectrum of world economies or technology evolution and it certainly isn’t the most exciting topic. But I think it is worth stepping back and thinking about.