Realising & Managing Non-Standard Situations


Focusing on Service Management, we briefly explore some of the side-effects of standardisation and using the example of response management, examine how organisations can be better positioned to accommodate inevitable change and the variety of customer demand.

The process of standardisation has its roots in manufacturing, focusing on definition, conformance, consistency and continual improvement.

Service Management leading practice and standards such as ITIL, USMBOK and ISO20000 have now been around for a number of years promoting standardisation through a process-centric approach.

Standardisation within organisations often involves consolidating or dispensing with aspects of service as part of the quest for simplification and driving down cost.

The result for the customer or service consumer is that it can be much harder for them to get what they want.

For the service provider, standardisation can result in the service actually consuming more resources while simultaneously driving down customer service.

Consolidation of services and increased specialisation can also result in fragmentation of work, increasing complexity (in terms of the number of handovers or touch-points in processes) introducing the risk of a corresponding increase in incidents, rework and customer dissatisfaction.

I’m sure you will be familiar with the practice of making contact with a service provider such as a bank or utility provider regarding an issue or request that deviates from what the contact centre analyst would view as “standard” and for which there is no standard procedure or scripted response.

Some of the symptoms experienced by customers when presented with this situation include:

  • Being passed from department to department
  • Repeated questions from a script that does not support achieving a resolution
  • Circular discussions
  • Lack of ownership for resolution
  • Long delays
  • Confusion & conflicting information
  • Being sent standard correspondence that does not align with the nature of the initial enquiry
  • The enquiry triggers a sequence of events that adds further complications

Sound familiar?

The challenge therefore is in designing a service organisation that is capable of successfully absorbing the variety of customer demand.

To begin with there is a need to understand the degree to which exceptions are occurring, the nature of the exceptions and then enable improvements.

One such example that is being positioned to challenge the area of organisational response management is referred to as “Standard+Case”. Written by Rob England, the book “Plus! The Standard +Case Approach” proposes a new paradigm for the management of incidents, problems and requests. Although written from the perspective of IT Service Management the content can be applied universally.

It is important at the outset to acknowledge the reality that there are aspects of a service that will be non-standard but will need to be formalised so that all instances of the service response are managed, reported and improved, not just the standard ones.

Case Management in itself is not new. It is established and widely used in sectors including emergency services, social work and law and seeks to achieve the optimum value and desirable outcome for all.

The following represents a summary of typical Case Management characteristics:

  • A Case Response represents an unknown or unfamiliar situation where there is no predefined process
  • A Case has a Case Owner and a series of states and a goal(s)
  • Case Management policy is used to define principles, rules, boundaries and guidelines. It is not a process or lifecycle although it will have a process wrapped around it
  • Cases are emergent. Actions and associated resources (templates, checklists, content, policy, procedures, tools, people etc) are selected by the Case Owner as the situation changes
  • Case Management is data driven with Change Management integral to track changes to data
  • Collaboration between people is viewed as integral to the efficient and successful resolution of a Case

The use of Case Management to complement existing process-centric service management approaches provides a real opportunity for organisations to achieve improvements in both the efficiency and effectiveness of their system without significant impact or investment. The tangible benefits of this approach identified include:

  • Better utilisation of staff resources
  • Greater throughput of responses due to a more effective and efficient resolution of unknown and unfamiliar situations
  • Reduced service consumer downtime and time spent waiting on responses
  • Fewer errors in complex and complicated situations

And the somewhat less tangible:

  • Greater flexibility in responding to user needs
  • Higher customer and user satisfaction
  • Better metrics: greater predictability of standard responses and more meaningful monitoring of case responses

Case management also provides an opportunity to improve morale and staff retention as individuals are able to pursue their development. Their achievement is recognised and the opportunity exists to progress in seniority from analyst to Case-Certified members with the necessary expertise and empowerment to deal with non-standard work. This not only rewards those that may have previously shown initiative in progressing the previously “invisible” non-standard work but also facilitates the development of new analysts who can be graduated towards more challenging work as they develop.

With many organisations focusing on customer experience and looking to differentiate their service offering in an increasingly competitive market, the adoption of Case Management to complement existing standard practice may prove an attractive solution.

Accepting and successfully managing change and the variety of customer demand will reduce the effort and cost associated with non-standard work, provide an opportunity to reduce employee frustrations and enable improved structuring for career development.

For details on how Aurora Partners could benefit your business please visit our website at  or get in touch via


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