The $1-error argument never makes sense, but for those struggling to come on board, it is something they almost certainly will pull out of their hats. The argument goes something like this: "That item (figuratively speaking) costs $1. Now you are asking me to spend my time holding an employee responsible for a $1 mistake. It will cost us far more to deal with this, and we are stupid to focus on it, and your program is stupid for insisting that we do."

You and I know that it is not about the value of the error but about the principle of accurate performance and customer satisfaction. We do not differentiate between a $1 item or error and a $1,000 item or error. By avoiding all errors, we are saying all orders and all customers (or departments we feed in to) are important to us because today’s $1 order is tomorrow’s $20, $100, or $10,000 order.

From a customer’s perspective, they just want us to do things right. Imagine from their point of view, they order a red $1 pen, and when it arrives, it is a blue $1 pen: "What, they can’t even get a $1-pen order right?" Now an order that perhaps wasn’t worth our time in the first place is going to cost us even more for us to correct. In the meantime, the customer, who has other choices to buy from, now thinks we are a joke.

The lifeblood of a small client company was its phone calls, especially phone calls that came in from the yellow pages, where if they didn’t pick up the phone, potential customers could just go to the next company on the list. This company invested about $50,000 a year in yellow page advertising, and they didn’t want any of those calls to go to waste.

Incoming call reports from AT&T suggested that about seven or eight times a month, their reception and office staff failed to pick up the phone and, thereby, lost an opportunity. Because of this, the accountability program was extended to the incoming-call center to track the number of calls that were dropped. As soon as the accountability program was switched on in this department, not a single phone call was dropped for several months thereafter. This proved that 100 percent phone-call pickup was possible. Then, several months later when one call was missed, the accountability program did its thing; the event was communicated, training was offered, and months more went by without incident.

Much later, when a single phone call was dropped again, the responding manager took the liberty of calling back the caller and found out that it was a third party soliciting for business, not a customer. In his response, the root cause he selected was "no failure occurred," justified on the basis that no potential customer had actually been impacted by the failure of his staff to follow company policy; typically, when it is determined that no failure occurred, no corrective action is provided.

The accountability program administrator immediately provided training to this responding manager. The policy was that all calls were picked up within three rings, and because they had no way of telling who was on the other end of the phone, there could be no exceptions to this rule. Sure, they sometimes took calls from companies soliciting for business, and they were handled with the same degree of attention as any other call.

In truth, we were less interested in the degree of the failure than we were in establishing a firm pattern of compliant behavior. You and I may understand the importance of this, but I have had some managers, some very credibly qualified, who could not grasp this concept.

September 4, 2014 @ 12:00 amby:  Michael Bull