I’m not touching that, it’ll do me back in!


This settee is crucial to this post , so take a good look at it.

Go on, put your nose right up to it.

This nasty looking thing used to be in my living room, there’s paint on it because at some point in decorating I decided I didn’t care because I’d be buying a new one soon. And I did, it’s lovely and in the living room.

This one, as you can see, it’s on my drive.
It shouldn’t be though. It should have been picked up by the Council and disposed of as I’d paid them to do.

This is the story of what happens when purpose is lost to terms and conditions.

I rang the Council last week…


Hmm, that last bit. Pay attention to it, because it becomes important later on. At the time though, it just concerned me in a nagging back of my head type way.
It HAS been raining really heavy, for weeks now. But I don’t keep a roll of PVC covering in the house just on the offchance that I have to gift wrap an entire 3 piece suite. Who does?




I didn’t say anything though. It made me feel guilty , like I was sneaking something bad.
On the night before the pick up, I took the chairs out of the garage, left them on the drive, and sat and listened to the driving rain beating down on the windows and thought fondly of my chairs sitting on the drive.

The next morning I woke up at 7:10am to the sound of men scraping chairs around my drive.
I looked out the window to see them put the two armchairs on the back of a flatbed truck, close the gate on it, and start to climb in the van and reverse out my street.

Without my settee.

I ran down stairs and they stopped when they saw me coming.
I asked them,


And with that, they drove off….
When my settee arrived at my house many years ago, it was lowered out of the van on an electronic platform that acted as a mini lift that helped transfer the very heavy thing from up high inside the van. But this van didn’t have that. It was very high off the ground, the bed of the truck being about shoulder height. And crucially it didn’t have one of those tail lifts to get it onto the van.


“YES! That’s it! One of them. “

So these people had to hoist my two armchairs on their shoulders and onto the truck without the aid of any lifting device. Just pure brute strength.

Which they did not appear to have, due to fear of “doing backs” in.

I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to hoist heavy weights over my head without the right tools. It IS dangerous. But I didn’t design this foolish process where settees that get wet cannot be taken away, but settees that are bone dry CAN be taken away.

So I ring up to complain…

So I made a complaint. As you do, hammering away at the keyboard. In the complaint I said “I just want the settee taken away“.


nice and dry

And a few days later, Saturday morning, two men turned up to do just that.

They lifted the nice and dry settee from within the garage where it had been returned to, and put it on the back of a van, and asked me if there was any rubbish I also wanted taken away whilst they were here. For free.
During all this, one of the men, clearly some kind of supervisor, was telling me about how staff are told not to lift things that are too heavy and the settee itself was very heavy.
Which it was, it’s a heavy settee. But that’s settees for you.
They carried the settee at waist height, all the way to a different van this time with the handy and capable tail lift, which then did the hard work of lifting it upwards onto the back of the van.


“YES! That’s it! One of them. “

The man asked whether I was happy with the outcome. I said yes, embarrassed about the surfeit of garage rubbish they’d taken away with them.

I told someone at work this story, and thisis what happened…

I instinctively knew I wouldn’t, but the reasons were long and complicated to relate out loud to the lady in front of me, and would require me to explain customer purpose, demand, systems conditions etc AND THERE’S NO POINT IN THAT, that’s what this blog is for.
So here’s why I wouldn’t tell them anything, and the actual point of this whole post.

The conventional view on this story

The customer did not comply with the terms and conditions of the service as stated to them in the recorded call to the Call Centre.  As a consequence of this, they left the settee to become sodden and too heavy for our staff to lift. Our staff followed their instructions on lifting heavy weights and informed the customer why they were leaving the settee. The customer contacted the Call Centre and were informed that they would not be refunded part of the cost. They made a complaint and in the course of handling the complaint it was decided, as a gesture of goodwill, to send out the larger truck with a tail-lift, to take away the settee.

The systems thinking view on this story


No charge for comedy items

A predictable demand on the bulky collection service is the collection of large items of furniture such as settees. Customer purpose is “take my bulky item away“. What matters is that it is taken away without any fuss or bother or outlandish terms and conditions.
There are several system conditions built into the design and management of the work that stops this from happening.


System conditions that hinder meeting customer purpose

1: Sorting
When I rang the callcentre the very first time, to book the collection, they asked me what I wanted collecting and quoted a cost according to their schedule. There are three costs, based on the size, with examples given on the website, with the cost increasing according to the size. Chairs are classed in the middle price range, along with a mattress or a single bed. The largest items cost more to collect and the examples given are piano or full size snooker table.
Based on this selection a different van is chosen for collection.
This sorting put waste in the system by allocating a large slightly damp settee to choosing an inappropriate van without a tail-lift that means it cannot pick it up.

2: Asset utilisation
They choose to send out smaller vans without the appropriate tail lift for some reason based on the thinking that the most expensive vans should be rationed. This drives waste into the system as the cheapest thing to do is not to send out the cheapest van but the most appropriate van at meeting customer purpose. This is the Taguchi loss function in action. get it exactly right, and its the cheapest thing you can do.

3: Contractual relationship
The relationship between the council and the customer is a contractual one. WE will do this, if YOU do that, with terms and conditions to govern the relationship. Putting the settee out at night time to meet the 6:30am van pick up is a good example. It doesnt meet what matters to the customer ( “no fuss”) as suddenly the onus is on me to locate several metres of waterproof wrapping and wrap a THREE-PIECE SUITE UP in it. How ludicrous is that?
When the terms and conditions were not met by me waste was created as customer purpose was not met because I contacted the council again, raised a complaint, they came out again and took a large amount of my waste that I could have taken to the tip myself. Again, waste. The contractual relationship created more waste and cost than a “what matters” relationship would have.
When I rang the call centre after they failed to pick up my settee the response of the manager was to say they would locate the recorded call and see if the advisor had told me about covering the settee, this is an adversarial relationship. Recording calls to show that a process had been followed, not that a process was right.

4: A complaints handling process, not a management learning process
The purpose of a complaints process is to protect the organisation from the customer.

It is for judging whether the process and rules have been followed, not whether the rules are correct in themselves. Complaints processes are for judging when the organisation doesn’t play by its rules. NOT for judging the rules they play by.
The purpose of a complaints system should be to protect the customer from the failures of the organisation, meet customer purpose where it hasn’t been met and to learn what system conditions need to change to better meet customer purpose. Ultimately the test of a working complaints system is “does this change management thinking?“.
If not, it is a paper exercise to protect the organisation from change.

This is why I kept schtum and didnt tell them “the good news story”. A simple pick up of 3 items of furniture that should only involve one phone call and two men in a van, THAT would be a good news story.

Two vans, four men, three phone calls, one complaint and a tedious and overlong blog post are not a good news story.

This entry was posted in command and control, public sector, purpose, systems thinking, systemz comix, vanguard method and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to I’m not touching that, it’ll do me back in!

  1. Goonber says:

    Why didn’t you just wrap the settee as you had agreed to do? Or better still, not agree to wrap it in the first place if you knew that you were not going to do this and didn’t have any materials? Regardless of van size effectiveness, the terms and conditions were offered before booking which you agreed to. The breach in contract was on your part, not the councils.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      You’re correct. If the council decides to have a contractual relationship with its customers, then this is what happens-the problem becomes a matter of managing whether people are meeting the terms and conditions, both sides, rather than actually solving the problem, ie “take away this bulky object”. And this is what happened, a simple takeaway turned into a complaint, and two trucks, multiple wasteful activities that apparently happen predictably. It’s not just me. As I say in the blog post, this is what happens when purpose turns into terms and conditions. A whole load of waste. Simply pointing the finger helped nobody.


  2. Goonber2 says:

    Let’s say they had tried to lift the soaking settee into the truck and ‘done their backs in’. Would you then feel bad about having not kept to the agreement you made? Would you feel bad when they tried to sue? Why should the council heave a settee twice the weight because the owner reveled in hearing it get soaked the night before? Even with an appropriately sized/spec’d van, they would still have had to carry it off the driveway and onto the van loading platform.

    Contracts exist for a reason, to protect the supplier and the customer in setting boundaries and expectations of the service or product on offer. Contracts work both ways, you’re upset because your actions mean’t the crappy end of the stick was your end.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      or you could design a system where there IS no crappy end of a stick?
      I learnt today of a bulky collection service where managers are sent to ascertain whether a fridge to be collected really IS a fridge and not something else. No idea why. Thirty grand a year spent on suspicious checking up on terms and conditions, that doesn’t aide purpose surely?
      I read your words “the owner reveled in hearing it get soaked” and thought HANG ON< surely I didnt type that?! the words are "sat and listened to the driving rain beating down on the windows and thought fondly of my chairs sitting on the drive.” which admittedly are open to all sorts of interpretation. But I meant that i was thinking of my favourite chairs that I’ve ever owned.
      But that doesn’t matter now, you don’t have to read this blog you know, the world’s a big place and the internet is even bigger, there’s all sorts out there to entertain and inform, unless this quite old blog post has been set as some kind of set reading in a class and you’re stuck with it. That would be annoying.


  3. Goonber3 says:

    My main bugbear is that your perspective on the outcome is that the council should not have a contractual relationship with its customers as it serves no purpose on the intended outcome. However the outcome should be clearly defined with set boundaries. If no contract exists, then customers will demand unrealistic results way over and above what is considered reasonable (in our modern culture of getting something for nothing), and companies will fall short in their service through attempts to save money or increase profits.

    My apologies if the previous posts were on an aggressive or ranting slant.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      i rant! ranting is big and clever.
      however, i would say that “If no contract exists, then customers will demand unrealistic results way over and above what is considered reasonable ” is an assumption worth testing. I use to have a manager that said if you asked customers what they wanted theyd all say they wanted swimming pools. There’s two answers to this, one is HURRAY youre in the swimming pool business now, and there’s profit to be made in that. The second one, how do you KNOW thats what customers want? have you asked them? So the assumption that people are out for what they can get is worth actually checking.
      Also, what are the consequences, the actual consequences in real life carrying out of the business, for putting in a terms and conditions approach, and what are the actual consequences of NOT? try them out and see. Predictably, in the terms and conditions approach in my experience, and also from knowledge gleaned from working in the place as a member of staff, the consequences are cost. Cost of checking, cost of extra people having to come out, extra people answering the phone etc. and a lengthier and costlier end to end time all around.


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