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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Thum, Ph.D., CCXP

Harmful Red Tape & the Menace to Customer, Employee, and Supplier Experience

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

When Wendy Beban and her team got the chance to slash some red tape for the citizens and employees of Auckland, New Zealand, they charged at the problem like champs.

Back then, if you wanted to report something as simple as a broken public park bench to the city, you had to call a government contact center, send a message to a generic government e-mail address, or go see someone at a government office, in person.

That interaction then set off a 55-step manual business process for the city’s maintenance employees. And if you as a citizen wanted to check the status of the repair you reported, you had to call a contact center and wait on hold while a rep looked for an answer.

It was a classic example of government red tape that cost everyone involved a lot of money, time, and headaches.

But by the time Wendy and her team finished about two years’ worth of work, the 55-step manual process became a 10-step mostly automated one. Citizens could quickly report problems and check the status of repairs on a website or Smartphone app.

It was a huge win for simplifying citizens’ access to their government and for making it easier for city employees to do their jobs.

Why Red Tape is a Problem for Customers, Employees, and Suppliers

The win in Auckland is just one example of a digital government customer experience team conquering government red tape. But red tape comes in many shapes and forms.

Generally, red tape is about burdensome or unnecessary rules, procedures, policies, and administrative delays. Some scholars say red tape is actually a “menace,” particularly in government, because it’s expensive and slows things down.

Wherever you fall in your translation of red tape, there is ample reason to want to trim it away because red tape negatively impacts the experiences of customers, employees, and suppliers.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Red Tape Can Be Risky.

Red tape is often created as a risk-reducing, protective mechanism. But red tape can have the opposite impact on customer experience.

Studies show that when customers perceive red tape in trying to make a purchase or access services, their reactions can go beyond dissatisfaction into the realms of disvalue.

Disvalue is a bigger problem than dissatisfaction. Disvalue can trigger protests and revenge behavior.

In the e-commerce world, that can mean social media firestorms and people telling other people about their poor experiences.

In government, that “other person” might be an elected official or an Inspector General. In my experience, the result can, at worst, bring agency operations to a standstill, or, at best, slow down daily operations.

From the trenches, the fallout of red tape becomes a disaster to getting work done.

2. Red Tape Obliterates Employee Change Readiness.

Customer experience-related change ranks as a priority for leaders right now. That usually means that internally, business processes and vocabularies need to be reworked from the customer’s point of view. But leaders can’t do that work on their own.

Employees must participate in change, too. Leaders are a source of motivation. They have to communicate well and explain the reasons for the change.

No matter how great your communication skills are, if red tape stands in the way of employees participating in change, then change will not occur.

Hierarchy, rules that make it hard to reward good performance, and rules that discourage employees from seeking promotions are some examples of employee red tape.

These things can kill a leader’s chances of making strides toward change. The to-do here is to be aware. Create coalitions that can help you to clear away the red tape that causes employees to resist change.

3. Red Tape Sends Great Suppliers Running the Other Way.

Most organizations need great suppliers to create great experiences for customers. But the buyer-seller ecosystem is downright nasty terrain in government. Clunky procurement rules and information technology systems can send great suppliers running in another direction and create headaches for employees.

Customer experience practices can help to smooth the maze. The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), a government agency, now surveys suppliers to understand their experiences navigating the government’s procurement systems.

They are also using customer experience journey mapping techniques to understand the supplier’s experience selling goods and services to the government. The goal is to see where red tape can be eliminated.

Some Red Tape May Be Necessary.

Government agencies must balance the realities of being a government organization with the expectations of citizens, customers, and taxpayers. That means some red tape is inevitable. But not all of it is necessary.

Customer experience practices like empathy mapping, journey mapping, and customer feedback can help to understand where red tape can be reduced. Then, it’s up to teams of managers and employees to clear away roadblocks.

Benefits: Immeasurable

Technology can automate some refined business processes and reduce the administrative burden of red tape. For Auckland Council, doing that work means their performance numbers might look a little like this moving forward:

  • Number of contact center calls avoided: Up to 150,000 per year.

  • Customer hold times: Almost zero since it’s easy for customers to check status online.

  • Number of eliminated headaches and hassles for employees: Immeasurable.

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This post originally appeared on The Future of Customer Engagement and Experience. Main blog photo by Pixabay. Broken bench photo courtesy of Wendy Beban.


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