Systems thinking in Benefits-listening to demand (part 1)

Listening to demand is exciting.

Really powerful and enjoyable. I loved sitting behind a reception desk listening and watching a young lad proudly show me how he had arranged his files and leaflets, and how he deals with different people who come in.

Sitting next to a  friendly Irish lady who was taking calls it was an immediate and intimate experience to hear a voice of a real customer with real problems talking in your head through the headphones. A tangy rush of reality that blows away any customer satisfaction survey in terms of how useful and real it is.

After the 3 day systems thinking orientation, there was an enforced gap of a couple of months due to restructures but reconvened in in February 2011 with a small team of benefits staff to listen to demand and build a typography of demand I.e. What is the predictable levels and types of demand on the service, both value and failure demand.

The purpose of listening to demand is ostensibly* to build a set of predictable demands, so you know what customers predictably want from a service. What amount of demands are coming into the system, and where, but much more importantly the types. These should be expressed in the customers own words, “Am I eligible for Benefit”, “I don’t understand this letter”. DO NOT turn it into management categories, “customer initiated claim” and the like. This is supposed to be the un-mediated voice of the customer. Putting the customers request into management categories would lose the immediacy of the demand and also move up the ladder of inference, replacing direct data with a judgement of what the data is about.

*I say ostensibly, because that’s really a secondary purpose. The real purpose is normative learning. You think you know what the problems are, you think you know what customers want, but hearing what customers are saying inbetween your ears cannot be denied. Listening to demand is the start.

I am starting to properly understand the idea that listening to demand is the key step to start unlearning/learning. It is direct and real. If it is devolved to someone else, other staff doing it and reporting back, then a massive opportunity has been missed and might not be re-gained.

The demand exercise listened to calls, it didn’t look at email, post, or walk-in customers. There was a series of sessions where staff were primed with the principles and techniques of systems thinking,  returned to the work to listen to demand and then came back to the class room where each would take it in turn to read out aloud from a sample of their customer notes, and the room would debate and decide what “category” best describes that demand.

About 300  calls were listened to over a 3 week period, were written down onto pro-forma then typed into an excel sheet. What was exciting was finding that there are exactly the same problems in this Authority as there are everywhere else that does Check. People are chasing claims, not understanding letters, telling us they have already sent in evidence that we were asking them to provide.  We grouped the demands into types,  not management categories, but in the words of the customer. “I want to make a claim” etc.

Building up a set of demands isn’t hard, knowing what customers are saying isn’t too far from the way that staff speak anyway. “change of circs” isnt a million miles away from “I want to tell you my hours have changed”. The hard part is the next bit, talking about what types of demand should and shouldn’t be coming into the service, the value and failure demands. Organisations don’t typically treat units of demand in any way different from each other, other than when certain demands are “fast tracked”. Looking and seeing failure demand as a separately caused, and entirely treatable symptom of a dysfunctional system is hard to do. It is the very first step in learning something different, so is annoying to think about and painful to do. In the next post!

This entry was posted in Check, Demand, me doing it, systems thinking in housing benefits, vanguard method. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Systems thinking in Benefits-listening to demand (part 1)

  1. Pingback: Punk rock purpose | thinkpurpose

  2. Geoff says:

    but the purpose of TPS (Toyota) is NOT to respond to customer demand


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      Toyota? That’s ok if it’s not what Toyota do, that example is from a local authority. They were listening to demand so their assumptions of what they thought the nature of the problem they were trying to solve was tested against the reality of the demand on the system. No cars or lean involved.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


    • asystemsview says:

      What do you mean Geoff?


  3. Pingback: How NOT to do demand | thinkpurpose

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