I’ve just had an experience with a service provider I felt I couldn’t articulate well. After a rant to my wife and further thinking, I came up with the phrase: “elusive system failure”. Yep, like most systems when it comes to customer care, it barely serves or saves the customer. At least that’s how I feel right now. The irony is that the very systems put in place to help me, as a customer became the thing that kept me out.

At the least, I felt disadvantaged and I went away without getting the kind of help I sought. Customer care or any other systems (should) exist to help people. The thing is that people have to do what the system requires to be helped.

The reason for systems, in the first place, is to handle increasing people demand and efficient management of resources. Every enterprise has constraints and systems (should) help address them.

The Exceptions

Take me, and billions of other people, who want the system to make an exception for their circumstance. Well, what do you do when you have a project you must submit today and you’re told turnaround time will be ten working days. This doesn’t exclude the week and a half you have to wait for the earliest appointment. Something is wrong; seriously messed up.


The thing is for us to get what we need; we have to cooperate with the system. Problems arise when something the system didn’t plan for arises. That’s usually the cue to call a manager or supervisor. The problem with a lot of systems is that they’re often tipped to benefit the ones who made them.

Whether your organisation is a business, non-profit or whatever, you have to ask this question: What biases are inherent in the system?

Cooperation is not always translated the same on either side of the table. The chasm between what service providers and clients consider cooperation from the other further complicates things. The client wants the service provider to do things a particular way, and vice versa. Stalemate. Frustration. Anger.


Convenience and what works for those who create system is usually built into it. I’m not saying that the people who create systems or procedures are inconsiderate and that they don’t consult those they (hope to) serve. I’m saying that every system has bias kinks. Every enterprise must investigate theirs and be open about it.

So, I’ve tried to say stuff, I’m thinking, but wonder how much sense all this makes…

Solutions, Solutions

I don’t have a problem with systems and procedures as far as them solving problems and making people’s lives better. I guess no one does. I hate to be inconvenienced by a system that is supposed to help me. So does everyone…

Somewhere in this rant is this sentiment: there’s a problem when a service provider ends with “… this is our system and I’m sorry we can’t help you…” The attitude of anyone serving people in anyway should be: “…these are the hurdles but let me see how else we can help you…”

Can’t We Just Get Help?

Don’t marry the system at the expense of solving people’s problems. “I’m sorry we can’t or there’s no way we can help you”, is one of the greatest lies providers or their representatives tell everyday. Too many service providers use their systems as a cop out from helping when those they should serve don’t quite fit into what their organisation didn’t prepare for.

Elusive system failure is when service providers feel they’ve done everything they can. Systems can give the illusion that you’ve checked all the boxes. The assumption is that everything that could possibly be done for a ‘client’ or ___ has been factored into developing the system or procedures.

If you’re a leader, business owner, whatever, always remember that everything you could do for those you serve is not always within the system.

Really Help

Helping people, going the extra mile is not always convenient when you’re the one who needs to do it. This is why service providers who go out of their way to serve and help, are not only celebrated but thrive. Bad service and customer experience usually end with, “…I’m sorry but I can’t help you…” and other variations of the same.

I challenge anyone and everyone: as you serve people remember your systems are not more important than people [Click to Tweet].

Even if the system works in your favour not to render a service or help, you can use your discretion to better serve. When that happens, you could tap into a loyalty that comes back to help you (get that service providers?).

Elusive system failure: when service providers hide in the behind their systems or procedures instead from confronting challenges customers face, by thinking they can’t do anything when they haven’t tried because of what their system tells them. When organisations think they’ve done everything because they checked all the boxes in their systems’ checklist.

When You Really Can’t

There will be times you really can’t do more. In those times, be empathetic. Even when you legitimately can’t help, don’t be dismissive. After not being helped, the next thing likely to enrage anyone looking for help or service is the way they’re treated.

Oh! I need to address the “If I do this for you then I have to do it for everyone, so I’d rather not…” That is lame. If you can’t do something for every client, what’s wrong with doing it for those you can? If you can’t help many why not help the few you can? That makes a bigger difference than none at all.

The Reasons

Systems are there to help you provide a service, not to look for reasons you cannot. Unfortunately, too many enterprises see their systems telling them more why they cannot help someone and not how.

Because the object is usually nothing but money, some companies don’t look for reasons to provide a service they look for reasons not to. Customers are forced to sign contracts they don’t even understand. Because we need the service we sign; our entanglement.

<even more intense rant> I’m yet to find a great model for contracts and service agreements that don’t bamboozle clients </even more intense rant>.

{ End Rant }

Elusive system failure says you’ve done all you can because you’ve checked all the boxes the system has asked you to. The truth is you haven’t helped anyone until you’ve helped them. Systems exist to serve people; your clients or beneficiaries. Don’t enslave people to your procedures, do it the other way round.

I hope you get the spirit of what I’m saying. I’m not saying systems are irrelevant and unnecessary. I’m saying a blind and insensitive adherence and enforcement undo your intent: serving people.

Could your enterprise be riddled with elusive system failure? Might be time to verify. If you feel you’ve been victim of elusive system failure, it might be worth your while to do something about it. Here’s a suggestion.

* Disclaimer: by default, rants can be illogical. Now, continue.

Over to you.

Published by Blessing Mpofu

just a guy changing the world

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