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Empathise until you are the anti-post office of your industry

by Douglas Kruger


Douglas Kruger specialises in dismantling needless rules. A global speaker and author of 5 books with Penguin Random House, including ‘They’re Your Rules, Break Them!’, he speaks on the topic of disruptive innovation and how to reduce your own rules in order to achieve it. Douglas is a multiple award-winning speaker, who was inducted into the ‘Speakers Hall of Fame’ in 2016. See him in action at

Have you ever had the misfortune of walking into a government-run post office? If so, you have my sympathy.

When you enter on an errand like renewing a license, there is no explanation of what you will need, nor what the process might be. The only concession to convenience is a sign above one of the windows reading ‘Licence renewal’.

On the days when there is no second sign declaring ‘System offline’, there will be a queue at this window. Interacting with the queue is your only hope of learning what you are supposed to do, for on the government’s side, the correct procedure is a closely guarded secret.

You will also find that your every footstep will echo, because there is no music playing. This serves to condition patrons to accept that humanity has no place here. And the next unpleasant surprise is that you are going to need proof of residence. Nothing on their forms, and nothing in the post office itself, will tell you so. You will only discover this obligatory extra once you reach the head of the queue.

Once you’ve returned with your proof, you will complete the entire queuing process again and hand over your credit card. Only then will the cashier inform you that they only accept cash. Cards are utterly baffling when you are still operating in the era of pretty beads and barter.

Start with a little empathy

Here’s what such institutions are doing wrong: their systems are organised arbitrarily. Nothing is united by theme for the convenience of clientele. Uniting your services by theme is called ‘chunking’, and it’s a very useful idea.

Hospitals in the US are now starting to use chunking to provide an exponentially faster, and more pleasant, customer experience.

Say, for example, that you need a heart bypass.

Under a system that is not unified into thematic chunks, you might have to make as many as nine different stops. You might go for your initial consultation in one building. Then walk to another to pay for it. Then you would be admitted to a third structure, which is the admissions building. Then you might be wheeled to the cardiology unit. After the operation, you would be taken to ICU, and then to a recovery ward. After that, you would need to see a specialist to determine how well your operation went. Then you’ll need physio and, ultimately, you’ll need to pay for everything, all in separate locations.

In a thematically organised hospital, all of this would happen in one place. The hospital would group (or chunk) everything to do with heart procedures into one area. You would walk through the door, lie down on a bed, and remain right there for the entire series of events, with specialists all coming to you in turn.

Increased care…and decreased danger.

The added advantage is that the specialists all talk to each other, rendering a chunked room an ‘intelligent team’, or a ‘smart cell’, rather than a series of disconnected silos. Everyone is working on you in coordination. The result: your care levels go up and the chances of mistakes across divisions go down.

The test:

Take a frank test today: Is your company currently organised around customer-oriented, conveniently themed chunks? Or does a customer have to deal with entirely separate entities, each of which is blind to the other, when using your services?

A final but genuinely valuable upside to chunking is the feeling of hosted continuity on the part of your customer. They don’t have to introduce themselves, and tell their story, to each new person in the chain, like a complete stranger approaching your business anew. Instead, they have been welcomed into the correct place, and everybody there now knows who they are and at what stage of service they may be. This radically humanises a business.

So, as your organization stands today, must they ‘make their way’ through your systems? Or do your systems ‘come to them’?