Why Business Process Automation Needs Built-In Exception Handling

Why Business Process Automation Needs Built-In Exception Handling

October 21

In my last post I discussed why I think the dark side of BPA (Business Process Automation) has more to do with poorly thought-out systems rather than “mentally lethargic” employees. When you treat people as cogs in the machine, you shouldn’t be shocked when they seemingly lack the ability to shake off such a mindset. They can only work within the system you’ve provided.

Skeptical? Then read CRM guru Paul Greenberg’s article about his experience ordering a treadmill. Titled Nice people, broken systems: How I bought some equipment and everything went wrong, it delineates how this seemingly straightforward transaction was bungled every step of the way.

I encourage you to read the entire article for yourself, if only to commiserate with him. But the crux of his piece supports my key point:

[A]lmost all the people I’ve dealt with along the way have been perfectly nice representatives of their respective companies – polite, concerned, and trying to help…So what’s the problem? Each of the people, while remorseful and apparently sympathetic, have told me that “there is nothing I can do about it” and the reason is always the system…[a]nd a slavish devotion to process over the people that they are supposed to serve…[R]ecognize that people only have so much leeway regardless of how nice they may be..[T]he systems that are in place limit their ability to respond appropriately…

Greenberg  says even the best systems are designed to “satisfy a commonwealth of interests that a business has to support, which includes its customers.” But systems, like the humans who designed them, have their limitations. They can break down because of built-in flaws or “because the customers’requirements fall outside what the system is designed to do,” says Greenberg. That’s why an “exception handling system” needs to be an essential part of any BPA system—and that exception handling system needs to place ultimate responsibility on the business itself, rather than its employees or its subcontractors.

Says Greenberg:

Because I paid Icon Health and Fitness, they are the responsible party for the entire value chain, regardless of where it breaks. To make the analogy, if I buy something using Amazon Prime and it takes three days, a day more than the promised two, to deliver, it is Amazon’s issue, not the courier’s, even though the courier caused the problem. Same deal here.

Unfortunately, too many businesses have yet to integrate exception handling into their systems, at least from my experience as a customer. A few months ago my Internet stopped working, and I encountered a similar situation. The Time Warner customer service rep was friendly, yet the soonest he could get a technician to fix the problem was the following week. He had no way to make an exception, even though my livelihood depends on having reliable Internet.

So I “hacked” my own exception handling system into the Time Warner morass. Using my smartphone, I tweeted @TWCHelp. I not only got a quicker response, it also magically brought my service back online (weird how that works). I look forward to a time when organizations view this level of responsiveness as a core component of the way they manage their business processes. Until then, I recommend holding businesses accountable by any means necessary.

Photo credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts via Wikimedia