My friend the Building Society


My mobile phone rang this morning.

-She said: “This is a courtesy call from the Halifax, how are you?”
-I said: “I am at work thanks”
-She said: “I can call you back another time, would you like that?”
-I said: “What is it about?”
-She said: “It is a courtesy call, not about anything in particular, we can call you back another time if its not convenient”
-I said: “Or you could not call me back if its not actually about anything”
-She said: “…..sorry sir? Do you not want to us to call you back?”
-I said: “If it’s not about anything, why are you calling?”
-She said: “Just a courtesy call sir”
-I said: “If it’s not about anything then please don’t call me back, because I wouldn’t know what to say.”
-She said: “Ok sir”

People are paid to do this, clearly, but why? Is there a purpose that I am unaware of? Have I turned into Victor Meldrew? Should I have chatted amiably with the nice lady, if so what about? What she did for the Jubilee? It’s raining here, what’s it like where you are? Generally I am not good on the phone if people ring me “for a chat”, and that’s people I actually know. If an abstract concept such as an organisation phones me for a chat they’ve got no chance.

The Systems Thinking Lesson
I used to work for BT Telemarketing and there was an assumption that customers liked being rang at home between 6pm and 8pm for a salesman to sell them exciting phone products like call minder, interrupting cooking or eating their dinner, children’s bath time etc. This was years ago, I am amazed that it happened and am even more amazed that similar things still do.

Someone thought this was a good idea otherwise it wouldn’t have happened. A whole bunch of people working in the Halifax probably think their contacts are a good idea. The people who probably don’t are the people being called and the people ringing them. At least this one here. I am unaware of any purpose of mine that could be solved by having a chat with the Halifax that wasn’t initiated by me or at least about something.

This is a good example of “Inside-out” thinking. People inside an organisation viewing the world outside it with the mind-set, values, purpose and objectives of that organisation, the customer becoming merely a means to satisfy the ends of the organisation. When I say “inside-out” it really means top-down as that is how things work in command and control organisations. Add the word “strategic” to a job description and you can add more money to the salary and move the post further inside the organisation and away from the customer, strengthening the inside-out top-down perspective and weakening any external feedback loops that may challenge the thinking.

So the people furthest away from the customer are designing the system, creating and spreading the thinking.
BT Telemarketing wanted to sell phone products, so that was its purpose and the customer was a method to achieve that, not an end in itself. I can only guess the purpose of Halifax, but it is probably something around “relationship maintenance” with me. I guess the thinking is that if they ring me I will view them more kindly and I will begin to think they are “my” building society, and therefore less likely to move a mortgage elsewhere for example. But this isn’t my problem, at the moment I think they are a bit silly so that may not have worked. Perhaps it is not even that, perhaps it is blindly following a fad?

The opposite of this type of thinking is “Outside-in” thinking, which looks from the customers perspective, looking at their problem, their purpose, and designing the system of the organisation around that. Not only are customers real and ultimately pay everyone’s wages, they are less faddy and prone to fashionable change than any management team. A much more useful and solid True North.

This entry was posted in command and control, customer, systems thinking and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My friend the Building Society

  1. Flowshaped says:

    Interesting read. Recently read this about when yoy should, and should not bother your customer


  2. Barry says:

    I recently had a similar experience with the phone company TalkTalk, so it may be a new management fad. TalkTalk called me to “make me aware” of a couple of free features that I wasn’t using under my phone contract e.g their calling circle. Perhaps I’m too polite, but I let the chap burble away for a couple of minutes then thanked him and hung up.

    I was left slightly bemused and, like you, reached the conclusion that it was supposed to make me perceive them as a caring business.

    PS. The Halifax is a Bank, not a Building Society – which may also explain some of the “thinking” behind this!


    • Barry says:

      Since placing the comment above, TalkTalk have (living up to their name, obviously) called me again – twice!

      The first was on the 11th June, shortly after I posted, and was a chap wanting to let me know about some of the features that were available under my phone contract. In effect, it was a repeat of the first call.

      This afternoon a young lady called and started off with the same old spiel. I interrupted her and said that I’d been called twice already and please could they update their database to note that I didn’t want to be contacted this way.
      “Oh, but this is different”, she intoned,”I want to let you know about some of our other products”.
      Sensing an incoming sales pitch I told her I had better things to do than endlessly discuss my telephony requirements.
      “Shall I call back in two weeks, then?” she asked.
      “Six months would be too soon”, I replied.

      The management fad isn’t working: I’m reasonably happy with their phone/broadband service but their calls are beginning to make me have negative feelings about the company. Will they ever learn?


  3. Bill B says:

    What makes you think that this call was from the Halifax and not someone phishing? At least they know that you have a Halifax account wherever they are from.


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