Corporates and municipalities often use rousing terms such as 'best practice' and 'world class' to describe themselves. However, the sad reality is that while competence is expensive, incompetence simply makes more money. Competence suggests responding professionally to queries and reaching solutions quickly and efficiently. Designed Incompetence, on the other hand deliberately places barriers in the way of customers which ironically results in fewer complaints, greater profitability and less time wasted engaging with the public.
The goal of Designed Incompetence (DI) is to create scenarios where customers get the message and simply 'give up' complaining because they realise that it will cost them lots of time, energy and money to do so. Thus systems created using the philosophy of “Designed Incompetence” are simply more profitable.
The really nice thing about a corporation is that ultimately, no-one is responsible. And even if it is found that the corporation has been engaging in criminal-style activities, the worst that will happen is a 'slap on the wrist' and maybe a fine. Someone may even admit incompetence and be sacrificed but ultimately, the system has succeeded in making more money – which is the primary design objective. Using Designed Incompetence as a KM tool in systems design is a simple but very powerful idea that includes the following rules:
- Don't respond to written correspondence such as faxes or emails – just ignore them. A case in point is the a local municipality's billing system that asks customers to send emails to email@example.com with queries and complaints. While this may look dynamic and professional on the surface, the email address is not monitored so don't expect a response.
- When customers phone the call centre, keep them waiting for as long as possible during which time you repeatedly play your theme tune interspersed with blurb telling everyone how great your service is. And if after this anyone is still left on hold, simply slamming down the phone when they get through will reduce the probability that they call again.
- Ensure that all “errors” made on accounts are to the benefit of the corporation.
- Ensure that usage information provided to clients is incorrect and out of date – this is akin to selling a car without a fuel gauge – if people don't know what they are using and how much they have left, they will tend to spend more.
- If you urgently require cashflow and have access to many accounts (such as banks and telecommunications companies do) simply debit each account for a few cents – it is unlikely that anyone will call to complain and if they do, RULE #2 will certainly help.
- Ensure you employ the most disinterested, frustrated and disincentivised people to work in your call centres. The vibe will make it less likely that people will call to bother you with their problems.
- Ensure that your invoices don't follow standard layouts and use your own terminology such as 'demand side levy' and 'unbilled calls' that are never explained on the invoice – most people will give up at this stage because of not understanding the jargon.
- Oversell capacity – this is a real winner which works like this: if you have 100 lines, sell 120 lines – this means that 20% or more of your user population is disconnected at any one time – this creates on-going, sustainable employment opportunities for your call centre and allows you to generate rental income from non-existent capacity.
A key skill in corporate appears to be if you can put off an issue long enough, it will either transform into something else or land up on someone else's desk. This skill requires the following behaviours :
- don't take responsibility for anything
- never use the personal pronoun 'I' preferring instead to defer to a higher power eg. 'The Bank' or 'The Council' or 'The Board'
- never commit anything to writing
- don't return to emails, telephone calls and faxes as doing so may incriminate you.
If all this seems familiar, you have probably been mugged by Designed Incompetence. If you'd prefer not being ripped off anymore, there are a number of suggestions to follow:
- Try not to deal with corporations while playing the role of "customer" if you can at all avoid it. Preferable roles to play include 'managing director', 'supplier' and 'consultant'
- Try not to deal with corporations that are in monopolistic positions
- Wherever possible, do not provide your bank account details with permission to debit.
- Choose 'pay-as-you-go' accounts in preference to accounts for which you have to sign a binding contract which are payable monthly
- Decline contracts offered by cellphone companies that offer free laptops, cellphones and data modems provided you sign long term contracts. Rather buy the laptop or cellphone for cash when you can afford it – you'll save a fortune.
And if after reading this you notice a couple of bucks disappears off your account without a good reason, remind yourself that that Designed Incompetence is once more doing what it is best at; being profitable without comebacks.