Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Why Telecoms and Banks Don’t Care

I hate Philippine telecommunication companies.

I hate Philippine banks.

I hate telecom companies and banks in the Philippines because they don’t care about customer service. 

They can say all they want that they value their customers. 

They don’t. 

I know they don’t care because they provide the worst customer experience.

I can never have an uninterrupted conversation when using my mobile phone.  I can never hear clearly what the other person is saying from the other side of the line.  And that’s assuming I make a successful connection, which happens only half the time. 

When it comes to connecting to the internet or running an app, the quality of access is never good.  There’s never a decent signal or reception when I need one. 

And this isn’t just for mobile phones but landlines too.  I’d be lucky if my landline telephone at work goes out of order only once a year.  My office phone line always goes dead at least four (4) times a year.  Never mind if the phone company fixes it within a week; the phone will inevitably die again within a few months. 

The telecom companies don’t sincerely apologise for the poor service.  They reply with canned messages when someone complains on social media like Facebook and Twitter.  The telecom companies would ask the complainer to send a private message or email in which there would never be a satisfactory response.   

And despite the poor service and the hundreds of complaints, the telecom companies promptly bill their post-paid subscribers every month and threaten disconnection if one doesn’t pay by the deadline.  Prepaid subscribers meanwhile just pray that they get good reception for the money they shelled out already. 

I hate banks for the same reason as I hate telecom companies. 

They don’t care about their clients.

Banks always say they value their clients.  Yeah right. 

They don’t.

It may be easy to open a personal bank account as showing one’s identification is usually enough.  When it comes to opening an account for one’s business, however, banks, apply a presumed-guilty-till-proven-innocent approach. 

Banks ask just about everything from an enterprise: proof of registration, articles of incorporation, by-laws, lists of stockholders, latest financial statements, etc. 

Fine, I say.  One can argue that those are legitimate requirements. 

But why do they want the same f@#king stuff when they ask me to update the account’s records every year? 

They say it’s just an update but in other words, it’s because they don’t trust that my business still exists.  Never mind if I had been actively and continuously depositing funds into the account. 

Worse, banks demand that all signatories of the business account be certified by my company’s corporate secretary or legal counsel.  And that the corporate secretary provide identification to prove that she exists.  How more distrusting can banks get?

I do have a degree of understanding that transparency is important between enterprises and banks.  I just wonder if banks understand the time and productivity enterprises expend to prepare all these paperwork and signatures. 

Banks can call me lazy.  For me, it’s a darn waste of time due to simple distrust. 

It gets worse. 

You want a loan?  Hahahaha, Good Luck!  Banks rarely give the credit line you want.  And if they do, you’d have to fork over assets three to four times the value of the limit you want to borrow at most.  And again, you’d have to prepare another heap of paperwork and have fresh ballpens ready as you’d be running out of ink getting them all signed. 

When it comes to daily transactions, banks and telecom companies have some things in common: 

  • Long lines at their branches;
  • Long online transaction times

Whenever I go the bank, I’d have to budget an hour even for just a deposit. Some banks make it fast but often, especially with the big banks, it would take the whole morning.  Even just for one transaction.  The lines are always long; the waiting time running close to eternity. 

Telecom company branch offices likewise have long lines of people always waiting.  Whether it be to pay bills or make a complaint, some people would spend up to a day waiting before they’d need to talk to a “customer service representative,” which is an oxymoron since there’s no service represented. 

And just when I thought online portals of telecom companies and banks would make it easier and faster?  No such luck.    

Telecom companies and banks have websites that are complicated to navigate.  One telecom company has a website in which looking for my bill requires clicking on a link that’s almost invisible to the naked eye.  And when I do click it, I again have to find another microscopic link to look for my phone records.  It’s as if the telecom company doesn’t want me to find my bill!  

Bank websites meanwhile require so much security that by the time I finish, my work day morning would have disappeared. 

Friendly to customers?  Banks and telecom companies don’t show it with their very user-unfriendly websites. 

Banks and telecom companies don’t care about their customers because they have their captured markets.  People, especially enterprises, need banks to transact.  And we need our phones to communicate. 

We can’t live without phones or banks.  And the telecoms and the banks know that.  They therefore don’t care if they make life difficult for their clients if it would make their bottom lines fatter. 

Whenever I ask banks and telecom companies why they don’t try caring about clients, they cite several words:

  • Audit
  • Process
  • Policy

Banks say their auditors won’t approve skipping some documents in updating accounts even if they already have the documents when the account was opened.  No matter it doesn’t make sense, auditors want it and they have the final say; customers don’t.  

Telecom companies always say they have processes to follow.  Repairing a phone, for example, requires diagnosis which will take two to three days.  A service person will then schedule to visit your home or office which will take another so many days.  The service person sometimes never shows up, so we’d have to follow up and the cycle from diagnosis to schedule repeats itself. 

A telecom company refused to fix my company’s phone because the local barangay (neighbourhood village government unit) requires a permit to climb the pole where the fault for my phone service usually is.  The telecom company doesn’t want to pay the cost of the permit (in this case: PhP 350 ($USD 7.00); the company thinks the contractor it hired should pay for it.  A stalemate ensues; and my phone as a result would be out of order for months.  The telecom company kept quoting “process” whenever I followed up.  (My company finally ended up paying for the permit because we needed the phone). 

You want to increase your business corporate credit card limit?  I might as well wait till hell freezes over.  Banks ask for so much requirements and paperwork just to apply for it; I’d still have to wait for the bank to bless the application for approval. 

Banks and telecom companies provide the epitome of lousy customer experience. 

Poor reception from telecom companies.  Huge amounts of paperwork from banks.  Long lines and complicated online navigation.  You name it, banks and telecom companies have it—everything that customer service experts say a business shouldn’t be doing.  They have their captured markets so they don’t care. 

We just have to live with it.  Hope springs eternal; I just hope I can wait that long.

About Overtimers Anonymous

We Don’t Need Deep Science to Implement Change

While depositing Philippine coins at the bank one morning, I couldn’t figure out which was which.  The 1-peso coin looked like the 5-peso coin which also looked like the 10-peso coin.  Each coin was silver in colour and almost the same size.  I also had older and much more different 5-peso and 10-peso coins to count and segregate, and it just added to the confusion. 

The bank’s counting machine also kept stalling with the Philippine peso bills the teller fed into it.  The machine couldn’t distinguish the new bills from the old bills.  The teller had to take out the new bills and count them separately. 

I was also hearing complaints that the banks’ automated cash machines weren’t accepting peso deposits.  The machines too couldn’t distinguish between new and old bills.  The machines kept getting stuck and shut down.  Stores at malls couldn’t deposit their collections after bank hours.  This was a hassle as owners would have to wait for the bank to open in the morning and line up to deposit their previous day’s cash collections.  Worse, they would have to keep the cash at home on weekends and holidays when the banks were closed. 

The Philippines’ monetary authority, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, had been rolling out new cash notes since the late 1990’s.  The BSP had been replacing the bills and coins with “new generation” currencies, that is, cash notes and coins that had better security features and that were cheaper to procure. 

The BSP didn’t take into account the size of the coins and the impact of the new bills on cash machines and bill counters.  Consumers couldn’t tell one coin from another and cash machines rejected the new bills.  The BSP, however, brushed aside the criticism and urged the public to just get accustomed to the new currency. 

There’s a proverb that says the only constant in life is change.  Most of us know that.  But can’t people make changes that do less harm than good? 

Changing currencies to improve security has some logic to it, but couldn’t the BSP at least design the coins to be easily distinguishable?  Couldn’t the BSP work with the banks to adapt new cash notes to counting and automated teller machines? 

Why ask ordinary people to get “accustomed?”  Shouldn’t products be easy to use right away or with least instruction at the shortest time? 

One does not need be a scientist to implement change.  The principles are elementary:

  1. Get feedback about any upcoming change from stakeholders, i.e., the people who will feel the impact, e.g., customers & vendors
  2. Test any new product not only with end-users but also with the machines and processes that the change will have effects on;
  3. Make sure the resources and assets are all in place when the changes begin;
  4. Keep track of the change, how it’s performing, and how well stakeholders are accepting it;
  5. Tweak as needed, revise if necessary: software developers release new improved versions of apps all the time, so why not for products too?
  6. Learn to accept failure or defeat—better to admit setbacks as soon as possible to avoid further damaging stakeholder relationships.

In other words, put what the stakeholders value first when it comes to change. 

People don’t like change for the anxieties they bring.  People will welcome change if they see outright the benefits outweighing the negatives.  There’s no deep science to it. 

We know this and we can get this. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Four (4) Suggestions for a Client-Convenient Website

The phone company needs a password whenever I want to look at my bill. 

I enrolled into the phone company’s “paperless billing” system more than a year ago.  Before, the “paper” bills were arriving late such that when I received them, they were already past the due date.  With paperless billing, the phone company notifies me via email and SMS that the bills are ready for viewing (although the email arrives a few days after the bill date or when the bill had already been posted on the website). 

To view my bills, I have to log on with a user name and password and select the bills I want to see and save. 

It was simple as all I had to do was click on the bills I want to download.  But now, the phone company added a step in which I had to enter a 10-digit password for every bill. 

It turns out that the password is the 10-digit account number of the phone number which is displayed on the website menu.  So, what’s the logic of having to enter a password which is the same as the account number, in which anyone can see it? 

I’m already securely logged on and I still have to type a password that’s already displayed on my bill.  There’s no reason for it other than adding another layer of secrecy which doesn’t make sense.  Is the phone company afraid that someone else will maliciously pay my bills?  (I won’t mind).

Some corporations go overboard when it comes to cyber-security.  They encourage people to enrol into their websites but at the same time make it hard to get in.  It’s as if there were two people at the doors of company websites:  one who merrily welcomes you and a grouchy gatekeeper who wants to throw you out.   

I can understand the need for security given the number of high-profile hacks one sees in the news.  But does the phone company want me to get my bill or not?

Corporations also try to save money when it comes to website access. 

A large bank in the Philippines has a website which allows clients to pay taxes online to the government’s Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).  The only problem: the bank’s BIR portal closes at 5pm and opens again the next morning, and it is only accessible Mondays to Fridays.  I can’t pay my taxes at night or on weekends.  The bank advertises that its site is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year; it just didn’t say that you can’t use it to pay one’s taxes after office hours. 

The bank probably is trying to save money by turning off the portal’s server after daylight hours and on weekends.  Clients just have to schedule their tax payments during working hours in sync with the bank’s.  Meanwhile, its competitors don’t have such limits.  One can pay anytime any day on other banks’ portals.  One wonders if and when clients will migrate to other banks to pay their taxes.  I already warn friends and peers from opening accounts with this bank because of this quirky online limitation. 

One can understand the need to save money but should one do it at the expense of convenience of clients?  Especially if clients will migrate to the competition to avail of better services?   

I don’t believe it entails so much cost to make a website more convenient for clients.  At the same time, I think websites can still be compliant to data privacy and security standards. 

The following are some areas which I (a layman in information technology) propose companies focus on to make their Internet sites user-friendly and convenient:

  1.  User Interface

A mobile phone company has a website in which the log-in menu is located on a very small corner on the screen.  If one has bad eyesight (like me), one won’t be able to see it.  It took me eternity to find it the first time I was logging in.  I eventually found it after scouring every pixel of my computer screen. 

User interfaces are what are displayed on a website for users (you and I) to interact with.  It’s supposed to provide ease of access, that is, easy to see, understand, and navigate.  Making it hard for users to even see where to click defeats the purpose of a user-friendly interface. 

  •  Accessibility Anytime

It’s not only keeping a web portal open nights and weekends.  It’s also avoiding the unscheduled and scheduled downtimes at the times when clients need them most.  Some banks schedule “maintenance” of websites on weekends and holidays.  As much as I understand the value of maintenance, I suspect some banks use the pretext of “maintenance” on holidays and weekends so they don’t have to pay people to be on duty to watch their systems.  It’s convenient for them but inconvenient for some clients and goes against the intent of an online website:  24/7 availability, 365 days a year.   

  •  Availability on Any Platform

Many banks and companies offer access to their sites via personal computers, mobile phones, and tablets.  They also make sure the sites can be accessed on any of the three (3) most popular operating systems, i.e., Apple’s iOS, Alphabet’s (Google) Android, and Microsoft’s Windows. 

A few companies, however, spoil the convenience by designing their web portals for mobile phones the same way they do for desktop computers.  For example, a mobile phone company (the same one that has a lousy user interface descried above) re-routes users to desktop-designed websites.  If one is using a mobile phone, this can be a hassle as one has to go to a web browser made for a desktop computer and squint at the tiny words and letters not designed for a cell-phone. 

A very large bank, on the other hand, customised online websites for mobile phones, tablets, and personal computers respectively.  Displays and buttons are designed exclusively for whatever device and platform.  I’ve moved more of my hard-earned money to this bank because of the convenience of access. 

  •  Security That Would Let Us In, Not Keep Us Out

Of course, security is important to us.  Of course, we don’t want our data hacked and displayed for all the world to see.  But can’t companies have websites where we don’t have to spend 80% of our time entering passwords in letters, numbers, & symbols, wait for an SMS confirmation which sometimes never comes, declare we’re not robots by encoding undecipherable curved letters, and having to enter new passwords to read our own bills?  Can’t companies welcome clients without treating them as presumed-guilty-until-proven-innocent criminals?  

We as customers or clients want to be served with convenience and with the assurance our transactions will be secure.  But sometimes, enterprises do too much for security or try to save on cost by sacrificing convenience. 

They forget that whom they try to protect or the costs they want to save can backfire on the clients, who are the people who’re providing their business in the first place. 

I don’t believe it requires rocket science to tweak web pages to have friendly user-interfaces, wide availability, anytime access, and reasonable security.  A little understanding for clients can go a long way in serving them even via a virtual online website. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Why and How Banks Should Improve their Services

In the late 1990’s, Asiatrust Development Bank, a relatively newcomer to the Philippine banking industry, expanded its banking hours from 8:30am to 6:00pm.  It was a break from the traditional 10:00am to 3:00pm schedule that was the mainstay of other Philippine banks.   Many small businesses and individuals particularly those who worked until evenings, flocked and opened accounts with Asiatrust. 

Asiatrust also offered pick-ups of deposits from customers and post-dated check warehousing, in which post-dated checks can be safe with banks until their deposit dates.  These added conveniences helped the bank snare more clients, notably small & medium-sized businesses

Some banks took notice of Asiatrust’s meteoric capture of market share and also expanded their hours and services.  Asia United Bank (AUB) absorbed Asiatrust in 2012 but its legacy of services for small businesses and entrepreneurs lived on in the Philippine banking industry.

Almost thirty (30) years later, amid the pandemic of 2020, Philippine banks have reversed these services.  Citing the risks to public health, banks have shortened hours; some have even closed branches.  Banks have reduced staff, resulting in long queues of clients at branches and long waits when calling customer service hotlines. Bank internet services have slowed thanks to surges in online transactions. 

Banks serve an important function in ensuring enterprises and their supply chains keep running well.  Cash-flow transactions between vendors and customers transpire mostly via banks.  Foreign exchange dealings, such as letters of credit (LC’s) and wire transfers, happen in most cases through banks.  Philippine bank executives repeatedly extol their commitment to customer service but they balance that priority with that of managing present-day risks in order to maintain the health of their finances. 

When banks downgrade services, enterprises’ supply chain activities may suffer. When a bank is closed or the waiting line leading into it is too long, for instance, clients may find themselves unable to consistently do routine financial transactions.  This can result in delays in payments to vendors and depositing collections from customers.  Receipts of materials and deliveries of merchandise would be negatively affected. 

Cutting back services, especially those dealing with foreign exchange transactions, can hamper the timelines of enterprises to import materials or export products.  

Banks have a golden opportunity to grow if they would just focus on service. 

In the Philippines, more than 65% of adult Filipino households don’t have bank accounts.  That’s 65% in potential market growth for banks.  Many Filipinos don’t deal with banks because either it’s a hassle for them (branches are inconveniently far from their homes or places of work) or because it’s simply discouraging to open accounts (e.g. too many forms to fill, minimum deposits, low interest rates, restrictions on loans). 

Small businesses make up 99% of commerce in the Philippines.  Which means they also likely make up 99% of supply chain transactions in the Philippines.  Even if the remaining 1% of enterprises that comprise big businesses may hold a large share of the commerce, the revenue and investment potential of small enterprises cannot be discounted. 

Banks aren’t just important to supply chains, they are much like them and can even be managed as such.

Banks purchase and deliver cash to and from branches and require the logistics of armoured cars.  They not only tap the talent of managers and staff to serve clients but also have work systems that can be optimised (e.g. tellers and customer services). 

The science of determining how many branches to have and where to locate them are not much different from that for storage depots for manufacturing firms.  And finding out how much capacity a branch should have (number of staff and how many operating hours) isn’t far from the capacity computations for assembly lines and logistics operations. 

The risk management for banking operations which encompass safety and occupational health aren’t really unlike that for the standards and practices for supply chain operations. 

Organisations with supply chains have been continually adapting to risk and improving customer service, pre-pandemic and amid the pandemic.  If they can do it, banks can too. 

The science of supply chain management and engineering can work for banks as much as it has in many industries.  It just perhaps needs the insight to get it started.  

About Overtimers Anonymous