Just like Batman, demand management is an insane attempt to solve a problem. In this case demand management is an attempt to solve the problem of less money in the public sector, but in a totally insane way.
We here at thinkpurpose have been lucky enough to do work helping core services get better at serving their customers.
If you want to know how to understand demand coming into your workplace, giving you have authentic knowledge to act upon, then read about the time I was lucky enough to be a part of doing it right.
That’s here and here.
However if you want to balls it up, try demand management instead…
If you’re in the public sector then you’ll have noticed demand management sneaking in over the last few years before POUNCING after they took all the money away to pay for the bankers bonuses.
Demand Management is command and control’s attempt at dealing with having less money by telling customers to clear off by designing them out of their service.
The assumption being made by managers sitting in the middle of the service is that by fending off customers at the borders it’ll be cheaper than allowing them in.
Think big barbed wire fences made of self service websites, apps and signposted do-it-yourself guides. The “free” web services and DIY apps will keep out the great unwashed and their demand, by helping them at the staff-free border manage their own problems.This means less demand coming inside the fence and therefore less money spent on the expensive staff to help them. This is the thinking.
Part of Demand Management is notionally understanding demand. ie knowing where to put the fences up and what apps to build to keep customers on the right side of it.
However Demand Management is part of command and control. It came from it, so it is it.
Don’t be fooled by the word “demand”, it doesnt mean what you think it to mean. In the context of systemsy stuff it is the expression of the customers problem that they need help with. In Command & Control land it is a cost to be avoided.
The thing about demand is, it’s your purpose. It’s NOT a bad thing. However in the world of Command & Control thinking, purpose is what is paid attention to. If activity and cost centres are paid attention to, and they very much are, then anything that adds to it is to be avoided.
Listening to demand is really important. Don’t waste demand by MANAGING IT!
Use it to learn from so you can do something good and become better faster cheaper
Here are 4 ways you can do demand ALL WRONG. Don’t do ’em!
1. Download it from a database
What is it? Rather than do the hard work of going to the actual physical location where customers interact with the organisation, listening and writing it down, we’d rather assume we already have it and go to the already existing databases and download what we already have.
Why wont it work? If you want to capture demand in customer terms so you can understand what they want then you want to know the problem they are really trying to solve, without slotting them into predetermined management categories. This requires unmediated listening. It’s been proven repeatedly in all sorts of diverse services. Downloading from a database will produce incorrect data, and no learning will have be done by people who will make decisions based on incorrect but neat database reports.
What should you do instead? Do the hard, laborious and valuable work of collecting demand data properly by listening and writing it down.
2. Prioritise numbers of demand not types.
What is it? Concentrate on how many contacts there are, rather than understanding WHY people are contacting. Use this as the basis of working out what to do next, such as making popular (ie expensive) areas self service at a website without understanding really why the customer is contacting you and what matters to them.
Why wont it work? Say that you get 1,000 requests for a service that you think could be provided on a website instead of through a costly member of staff. But you don’t know that there are only 200 customers, trying to contact you 5 times before they get what they need because it didn’t work the first time. You now don’t know that your service only gets 200 value demands, and creates 800 failure demands because it doesn’t do something right for the customer. So what is the chance that NOT knowing the types of value and failure demand will help you design a cheaper and better service? A virtual zero chance of success based on ignorance.
What should you do instead? Understand why customers contact you, by actually listening to why customers contact you. Don’t stick with numbers of contacts, ask for some words as well to tell you why they are contacting. Knowing the types and frequencies of demand on your service gives you a huge chance of success compared with ignorance.
3. Set targets for demand
What is it? “We want to reduce demand on our expensive resources so we will set a challenging though realistic target to reduce demand”
Why wont it work? We all know targets don’t work. But there is a special kind of foolishness in applying targets to restrict access to services. Restricting access is a common feature already of the design of the majority of Command and Control services from banks and insurance call-centres to social care and benefits provision. The idea is to put the expensive experts at the back of the process away from the customer, and put de-skilled script driven monkeys at the front.
In the public sector it is often done by putting “gateways” into services with the clients having to reach certain thresholds of need before they are then allowed in. This won’t work because the de facto purpose becomes about restricting expensive resources and the question is “is this for us?” with the default setting being “no, it’s not” until a customer can no longer be refused access to the service. This is the opposite of meeting customer purpose. It is about the customer having to meet the organisations purpose of not getting access until ill/poor/old enough to qualify.
Hilary Cottam here talks about this model…
[They] are all about institutions with finite resources, anonymously managing access.
In my work at the front line, I’ve seen again and again how up to 80% of resource is spent keeping people out.
So professionals have to administer these increasingly complex forms of administration that are basically about stopping people accessing the service or managing the queue.
As we all know, meeting customer purpose is actually the cheapest thing you can do. The further away from meeting customer purpose a service gets, the more expense it creates. Setting a target for demand is setting a target for increased cost.
What should you do instead? Use data on demand to understand your purpose and how well your service is currently meeting it, then use it to re-think, re-design and re-manage. No targets can achieve that.
4. Use demand to reduce costs
What is it? Restricting access to services because servicing demand costs money so the less demand there is, the cheaper the service.
Why wont it work? This is the thinking that lies behind number 3 above, setting targets to reduce demand. It is the assumption that since money is spent on a service, demand on a service is the cause of that cost. So if you reduce the demand, the cost reduces. This is, technically speaking, arse about face. The cost of a service is due to the design and management of that service, not the demand placed upon it.
“…cost is a really slippery concept. Because when the government says that a family like Ella’s costs a quarter of a million pounds a year to manage, what it really means is that this system costs a quarter of a million pounds a year.
Because not one penny of this money actually touches Ella’s family in a way that makes a difference.
Instead, the system is just like this costly gyroscope that spins around the families, keeping them stuck at its heart, exactly where they are.” [link]
What should you do instead? Manage delivery of value to the customer. Ie. do what is needed to help the customer with their problem. Don’t design a system to reduce cost, design a system to achieve purpose. It’s better and cheaper for everyone.