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January 2016

What happens when it’s ‘nobody’s’ problem?

It is a new year and I have already formed lots of friends – Jack, Billy, Loretta, Michael, Cheryl and many, many more. And how did I make these new friends?

Well in August 2015 I needed to create an Auskey. They are easy enough to create.

The fun really started when I wanted to use it link to another Australian Government function, the Unique Student Identifier (USI) and then, because I am a masochist, I wanted to use it in my Student Management System (SMS). “Wanted to” is not quite right, I needed to in order to perform the functions of my business.

By December I was desperate because whilst I had the Auskey and I was registered with the USI system and the SMS system they were not talking to each other – all my fault of course. And by December I had already tried several of the helpful suggestions of three helpful help desks.

By December the issue was urgent. After all without fixing it a portion of my business would fail, but gee what the heck! Naively I started with dedicating an hour of my day to resolving this issue. Then I realised that an hour wasn’t enough and I would need two hours, then three. As the month progressed it became clear that when I talked to Auskey I would be told that the issue was a USI or SMS issue. When I talked to USI it was an Auskey or SMS issue and when I talked to SMS it was an Auskey or USI issue.

I never cry except when it is necessary, like when people die, or when St Kilda loses the grand final. There was a day before Christmas 2015, however, that I felt a tear well up in my left eye as I realised that this issue, which I had resolved in my own mind to be fixed by October 2015, would not be fixed by Christmas and I would have to start again in January.

So the New Year arrives.

Back to the help desks with grit and steely determination and I began to eliminate the issues by following the precise instructions from each person on the help desk. As we fixed one problem another one emerged

I begged, I pleaded, I cajoled.

I woke one day this week and dragged my weary body out of bed. I felt exhausted and limp. I looked in the mirror and to my horror my nose had elongated and I had grown whiskers and my whole face was covered in white hair. I had become a white mouse and as I looked around me I realised that I was on a mouse wheel going round and round and round.

I drag myself over to my desk and put all other tasks to one side. Today I am going to resolve the Auskey issue and then I am going to return to my normal life.

I ring the SMS. We start the process. A problem emerges and I have to ring the Auskey. I explain to each person how important it was that they stay with me until the issues are solved and that I am not going to hang up or go away until the issue is resolved.

Eight and a half hours of phone calls later, nine different people, no one who could talk to the previous person I spoke to, hours of mindless “on hold” unrecognisable ding ding, da da that substitutes for music, and I have progressed no further.

Not that I am complaining because Jack and Michael, and James, and Cheryl and Loretta and Troy are just lovely. They all made sympathetic noises and made commitments to look into it and all came back with useful suggestions. Press this button, see this tab, press it. Oh goodness that hasn’t worked. Umm I am not sure what is happening here. Flick, flick as the manual is being read. No I don’t know. We’ll try the Tech desk. Oh no they have put the call back to me. Whoops I have dropped out and I have to dial in again. Hi this is Anna, how can I help you today?

I try various physical poses to help my state of mind, which I must admit is now alternating between homicidal and suicidal. I try lying with my head on the desk and my arms between my legs in a sort of upright fetal position. I try standing on one leg for as long as it takes for people to answer the phone. I try lying on the floor and looking at the cobwebs on the roof, I try ignoring the fact that the dog wants to lick my face whilst I am lying on the floor and I try dancing to the ding ding, da da music – sort of post-modernist liturgical dancing with choking of neck hand movements between wide sweeping of the arms in a discombobulated sort of way that ended in abrupt and violent finger expressions.

My daughter and her partner are feeding me endless cups of black tea, chocolate and Panadol. Sometimes I put the chocolate between the Panadol and pretend I am having high tea at the Windsor.

5.15pm and I am chatting with Michael. I am sorry Bernadette we can’t see what is wrong. Poor Michael he really tried hard. He went to the Techs twice, the specialist once and his manager twice. This is not going to fix today and I will have to ring in again tomorrow. Please Michael can I speak to a manager and have a number to ring in on so that I am dealing with the same person. No.

I decided that “the manager” is not a life form as we know it. I think they are just an amorphous being with eyes and a mouth that says “no”. They could be related to Tony Abbott – nope, nope, nope. Anyway the answer was no. No escalation to a manager, no number to ring in on so that I could deal with one person who could resolve the issue. No flag on the file. I tried to get Michael to flag me as a nuisance caller, or a person with “issues” but no go. I almost went to “what would happen if I threatened you with an explosive device” but pulled back at the last moment. I saved it for tomorrow along with Jon Faine.

I said my goodbyes to Michael, after explaining to him that the whole system he is working in is being tendered out and that I knew who was tendering and what would happen to these jobs, and after quoting who the Minister was and how I was in the process of writing a Dear Minister letter and after just one, only one, F word.

I sit quietly for a little while looking at depleted battery on my phone and the piled up messages of unanswered calls from the day.

I take up my pen and paper and slowly I start writing…

“Here lies Bernadette….her life spirit gone, wiped out…..don’t feel sad for her, she has passed into another world where there are no call centres and no government departments, where a customer is really a customer, where problems are solved by the first person who is made aware of the problem, where everyone has the delegated authority to solve the problem that they are presented with and where managers are real and don’t leave the hard people facing work and the irate problem holder to the frontline staff to deal with”.

Then I pick up my phone and start from the top of the contact list and I dial the numbers of people who have done something to annoy me lately and I say “Hi, let me tell you about my day”.

Aahh… I’ll need those new friends after all.

P.S. The Auskey is now fixed. Our political system works after all. It is the old adage – it isn’t what you know but………

Bernadette O’Connor is Executive Director of Management Governance Australia Pty Ltd – a consultancy training company operating in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Her experience includes Chief Executive Officer positions for three companies and an extensive background in business change management and leading teams to diversify and innovate for growth. She works with leaders and managers to achieve success