Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Going Walkabout

Once upon a time there was a consular section with a very high NIV refusal rate, a customer base that insisted on queueing up at 3 AM, and a layout that required consular officers coming to work to pass that queue.  Habitually, the officers would stride along the sidewalk with a no-nonsense gait and eyes firmly fixed anywhere except on the waiting applicants.  One officer, however - a large and naturally cheerful soul - would smile, make eye contact, and greet the people as he rolled along.  They would respond with smiles, straightened posture, and startled hope.

When he interviewed these applicants he refused nearly all of them, exactly like his colleagues did.  Interestingly, however, although the culture was one of determined complaint in the face of any adversity, this officer's refusees only rarely complained.  And when the did complain, they always complimented him and only griped about the law.

Is there a lesson here?  Well, of course, and here it is:   A very small amount of effort can yield positive feelings, even in the face of disappointment.

Do positive feelings matter, especially now that the NIV process is so complex that officers don't often even make eye contact with their applicants?  Madam would insist - and often does - that positive feelings are more important now than they ever have been.  American's current reputation in the world is very low; more than anyone else, a consular officer can lift that reputation for the applicants he meets.  And Madam would argue - long, loudly, passionately and tiresomely - that he should.  Rather, he must.  Period.

How do you like us now?

Appointment systems were one of the first innovations to improve applicants' experience.  (Never mind that that wasn't usually the systems' goals.  They still worked that way.)  So why are they so often so badly done?  It does no one good to give a customer an appointment that you have no intention of honoring.  And yet that is the effect of most such systems.  Does it annoy you when your doctor or dentist lets you sit in the waiting room for an hour or more?  So why do consular officers routinely do that to their customers?  There is no good answer to this, and it should not occur.  Not ever.  Your appointment system is dysfunctional?  Fix it.  Period.

What else could be fixed to make customers' experience more positive?  That's a very good question, and one that could be easily answered by any knowledgeable consular officer who is willing to get off a chair, come out from behind a computer, walk through the process as if he were an applicant - that is, a real human being who made an appointment and has other things to do today - and determinedly fix any hiccup that slows him down.  Period?  Yeah, period.


Mizzenplace said...

The first American I ever met was a Consular Officer at an embassy overseas. She was SO friendly and nodded with understanding and care rather than writing people off. I was 7 and didn't speak English. I thought every American was like her, and I wanted to be like her too.

Anonymous said...

I think CONS Chiefs should regularly go into the waiting room and introduce themselves, especially when the section is having a bad day and the applicants are waiting longer than usual. A simple "sorry, we're slow today because... don't worry, we'll talk to everyone, please continue to be patient" goes a long way.