Thursday, April 13, 2006

Broken Workflows

A nice and easy way to lose customers is to carefully implement broken workflows in your business. This is not an easy task and you might need professional assistance for succeeding in such a bold endeavor.

Or you can take real world examples as models.

Like Free, the French ISP, which is so hard to leave. Their broken workflow strategy is based on the MPOC Paradigm. The MPOC, or Multiple Point Of Contact, is the inefficient counterpart of the SPOC, or Single Point Of Contact. As such, the MPOC can increase the difficulty of reconciliation related messages, increasing the chance of breaking any existing workflow. Free (not as in beer) has established two points of contacts for subscription termination: one that deals with the physical aspects (like modem return) and one that deals with contracts and payment aspects. Needless to say that this is a big success: it is guaranteed to take a few months and many certified letters to terminate a subscription. Great job!

Or like Dell France, where a great deal of mastery has been deployed to ensure that you will not spend your money there. They follow the Black Hole Paradigm, where messages are either held captive, buried or lost. This is a very complex strategy whose main purpose is to prevent any form of end-user feedback and disable useless mechanisms like escalation. Dell masters this delicate art and uses it brilliantly: your internet order will be held captive for weeks before you get any feedback (while 72 hours maximum was announced), the web interface to query the order status will consistently return nothing and the commercial services that you can reach on the phone will not have internal access to any information about your order. Amazing implementation!

These are only two random examples but I am sure they will be very useful for anyone interested in broken workflows.

Have you experimented other broken workflows strategies or paradigms? Please do share them here!


alex said...


Broken workflows as you call them are the norm in most industries in most countries.

Smooth straight-through processing is an illusion on which many companies have invested a lot of money. Take the example of SWIFT, an organization for which seamless flows are of paramount importance: I don't think they are much over 75% of transactions without interruption or manual intervention and that's actually very good... Expensive but good.

Here's my take on this:
1. technology and online tools make "broken workflows" visible to the outside world (aka citizens, customers, competitors & partners);

2. it actually takes a lot of work and money to have seamless flows in large businesses (especially in retail businesses like the ones you are mentioning). Question: why in the world would a private company invest to make it easy for customers to leave it? (which is why some government regulation is useful sometimes)

3. straight-through processing, seamless or unbroken workflows, call it the way you want, actually involves mastery in the interaction between human organizations and technical infrastructures. Important business opportunities exist in that field but the (European) economy is not ready yet for that

4. often the is secondary benefit in having broken workflows and these are hard to identify when one wants to build a super-efficient operational environment (I still remember a project called "Payment Factory" in which I took part; it involved automating issuance and handling of payment orders in an operational environment... Hell on Earth!)

5. about Dell specifically: I have only very seldom had problems with Dell and my experience is that European teams are far less efficient than the US-based Dell organizations (from which I always ended up getting solutions on the rare occasions when transactions went wrong). In fact, they have major problems of consistency in their IT infrastructure in Europe... Why don't you contact them on behalf of Agile Partner (by the way, I really like the current look of teh company's web site - congrats)?

David Dossot said...


Thanks for your comment.

I have never intended to insinuate that establishing efficient (or even working) workflows was easy.

This post, mainly driven by bad mood I admit it, was mainly about yelling to anyone interested that us, the crowd of users/customers/victims, we were starting to get picky about the way we are treated by big vendors and that their apparent lack of organization has ceased to be "clumsy" to become "excruciatingly painful".

Concerning point 5, note that I carefully pointed my finger to Dell France as I am convinced this is a local fluctuation of service (adaptation to France's usual unprofessional practices?). And of course you are right (prescient to be accurate): I am now in contact with Dell Belgium via AgilePartner ;-)

I could have summed this post by saying: "Come on guys, the year is 2006".


I should have summed it up like this: "Go ask Alex".

It would have been more beneficial for them ;-)


PS. Thanks for the new web site design!

alex said...


In the context of anger against the practices of a big vendor, it might be interesting to exploit the power of social networks and the so-called wisdom of crowds (something that needs to be taken with care because it sends chills down my spine when I think of what happened in the thirties with crowds that were not that wise). One of my most recent customers has a strong expertise in buzz marketing and word-of-mouth phenomena...

Perhaps it is time to have social network enabled customer protection associations?

Have a nice weekend,


PS: thanks for the very interesting contributions you made to my blog. Strong agreement with your points about decentralization of government and Enlightenment, only I trace Enlightenment to the period before when courageous sould protested and went their own more ethical way.