Customer service

The problems with Shared Services

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Large organisations, including government departments, have implemented shared-services units that have lost the service ethic. Here, Jonar Nader provides some solutions to this stifling problem.

There are two videos below. The second one is of a higher quality for those with high-speed internet connection. The first video is 18 Mb. The second is 33 Mb. Video length is 10 minutes. Further below is a transcript of the video.

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Here is the transcript:

Jonar Nader: I was on the receiving end with Shared Services so perhaps I can share some of those stories with you. I once worked for a company called Compaq and the Compaq Computer is now known as HP. And the founder, Mr. Rod Canion had a phrase that he started from day-one and the phrase was, ‘can do’. And in those days, Compaq was what Google is today and what eBay is today. It was the blooming company that was breaking every record. It was the shining start. And so, at the rate we were going, we couldn’t survive unless we adopted Rod’s ‘can do’ attitude.

Then I moved to another company called Acer and Acer was another multibillion dollar organization and Stan Shih founded Acer from nothing. And Stan took ‘can do’ one step further. And Stan used to not accept no. So, for example, he was such a visionary but he was always frustrated by the slowness even though the IT industry was the fastest moving industry there was, but he knew it wasn’t fast enough. And so, one day I remember in a meeting and this was in Singapore and he was telling us that there will come a day when every PC will have a CD-ROM drive in it. Stan was Taiwanese and he spoke like this he said, ‘The PC of the future will have the CD-ROM drive.’ And everyone said, ‘What is this thing?’ and he was explaining that the CD-ROM could have so many megabytes. And we thought, ‘Why do you need a CD-ROM drive on a PC?’ I mean, it’s bad enough that it’s got every gadget on it but nonetheless, he was visionary. We didn’t even have games at the time and Stan appointed me the General Manager of Acer Software. I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s just – we have to create software to put on the CD-ROM.’ I said, ‘What would I know about software?’ He said, ‘Jonar, what would anyone know? This is a developing industry. There is no one out there who knows more than you and you know nothing so you’re as good as everybody else anyway.’

Jonar Nader: So, I all of a sudden became software manager, as well as all my other responsibilities. So, we have to create software. Now, here’s the point. This is the point. Shared Services. Stan had factories and he went to – and in the room, he spoke to the factory people and he said, ‘How long would it take before I can have a CD-ROM drive?’ And the factory manager said, ‘About 18 months.’ And Stan said, ‘No. Not good enough.’ And the factory manager said, ‘But you know, we’ve got a source it from Hitachi. We got to talk to Sony. We got to talk Phillips. We got to get the Microsoft Windows thing to work with it. Twelve months at best.’ So he said to him, ‘I have more than one factory, don’t I?’ ‘Oh, yes. How long for you?’ He said, ‘Oh, maybe 12 months.’ He said, ‘I’ll tell you what. Whoever develops a CD-ROM drive first, stays in business, and the other factory will shut down.’

Jonar Nader: Within three months, he had a CD-ROM drive.

Jonar Nader: And that was the attitude. And then I went to work for another large corporation. I can’t mention their name because I might get into trouble because I’m about to tell you a sad story.

Jonar Nader: Our chief in the US who earns millions of dollars in package happened to be coming to Sydney, so we had to have a management meeting, obviously. All the managers and it’s appropriate that we greet him, and present him with the country’s report. How we’re doing, issues, et cetera. So, they appointed me as the lackey who’s going to go put the report together. And I only had a few days in which to do it and one thing that I needed to bind the report in those days were these things which are the plastic, you know, how much are they? $0.3 each? $0.20? We had a Shared Services Department. And so, I needed these for the boss. And I went to the counter. It’s like a tuck shop and they opened it up at a certain time. And I said, ‘I need 50 of these for the management meeting.’ And they said, ‘You can only have ten at a time.’

Jonar Nader: You laugh.

Jonar Nader: What do you think was going through my mind? I said to them, ‘Mr. X is coming.’ And they said, ‘Who’s he?’ They didn’t even know who he was. So, I called OfficeWorks and ordered them on my corporate diner’s card which was as good as stealing a truck load of computers because I had broken the rules.

Jonar Nader: And I had broken the rules many times and they tried to put me in my place many times. For example, I had a conference in Perth. And in Perth, there’s a hotel called the Rendezvous Hotel and I had 700 customers coming for this presentation. And we flew from Sydney to Perth with all this equipment but the rules were I wasn’t allowed to stay in that hotel because Rendezvous wasn’t an approved hotel. I had to stay 30 kilometers away, at the approved hotel while I lug equipment, 600 brochures, 700 satchels and equipment and technology that needed a large truck. And so, I said to them, ‘Book me there anyway.’ She said, ‘No, you can’t.’ So anyway, I called under, you know, a total guise that I’m on holiday and can I please have a room and I booked a room. Well, for being another horrible thief, they thought that put me in my place, you know how they put me in my place? They audited me.

Jonar Nader: And when you are audited, it’s like saying someone is dealing in drugs in our company.

Jonar Nader: … it is the biggest shame of all shames. ‘Jonar, three and a half years ago, you ordered a battery for a pager. Can you show us the receipt, please?’ You know what a tax audit looks like? Well, this is worse. And I just thought, ‘Oh, goodness. That’s not what shared service is all about. Surely it ought to be the sum of us all, equates to better. But one thing I didn’t tell you is I literally could see boxes and boxes and boxes …

Jonar Nader: … behind the tuck shop wall. So, I’d like to therefore bring you into my world and talk to you about How to Lose Friends and Infuriate Customers.

Jonar Nader: Let’s see how we can infuriate our customers. Now, I prefer the term sharing services and I’d like to suggest to you that that – it is a good idea. Sharing services is a good idea if it means that we are sharing our resources and skills to serve the clients better and that’s the operative word. Better than they could get elsewhere. Then, I would agree with you that sharing services is a sound idea if we can make it invisible. Much like the light bulb is invisible. People walk into a room and it illuminates the room but no one looks up to the ceiling and say, ‘My goodness! What a fantastic Phillips light bulbs you have.’

Jonar Nader: It’s invisible. It does the job. No one needs to talk about it. And I think good shared services in some way ought to be invisible so that it is not an obstruction. It is a force behind. And I think sharing services is a robust idea if we can retain the service ethic. We do not want to become a monopoly whereby. So, in the consumer division, speed was a vital factor. And if we had too much stock, that we needed to sell, in the past, I would be able to call my ad agency and say, ‘Look, today is Wednesday, by Saturday in the Sydney Morning Herald and in the Melbourne Age, I need a full-page spread with the Harvey Norman logo, our logo and this is the promo and this is the special package.’ Wednesday, I could have that in the national newspapers by Saturday. But under the Shared Services Program, we lost the service ethic and I would call this worldwide agency and I’ll say to them, ‘Today is Wednesday, I need an ad by Saturday.’ And they’d say – they’d laugh like, ‘Sorry, can’t do. We can’t help you.’ And I couldn’t go elsewhere to get it done. Stan Shih from Acer, the founder of Acer I was telling you about before, he used to say to me, ‘Jonar, if at anytime any of my factories say no to you, you are authorize to go elsewhere.’

Now, I’m not here to talk about your policy. But we have to live under the guise that if we do not provide a quality service, people will either go elsewhere or itch to go elsewhere or wish they could go elsewhere and that is certainly not what we need, the feeling. Remember, we want it to be invisible, not so much that they need to complain about it. Now, I felt the service ethic had gone when one of the largest agencies in the world said to me, ‘We can’t put an ad on Saturday.’ That’s a disgrace. They’re not there to tell me what I can’t do. They’re there to empower me to do more than what I could have done on my own. So, watch out for that.

Let’s develop a Shared Services environment where as if we were in a very competitive environment and always say, ‘If they had a choice to go to a competitor, would they?’ We don’t ever want them to think about that. Some would say that they are not in the business to make a profit. Well, you need to act as if you were because that’s the source of the problem. People somehow think they’re not being competitive. You do need to have a mindset that we’re in the business to make a profit. Now, that profit might not necessarily be dollars. It might be in joy. It might be in efficiency. It might be in capability. But profit is important for growth.

Jonar Nader: And so, what are you profiting at the end of the day? Your profit measure might be skill and expertise and market dominance, contacts and networks. So, you have to, at the end of the day, come out with a net profit that says, ‘And now we can inject that back into our organization. That’s what makes our organization grow.’

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