What Stupid Machines and Stupid Processes Reveal

Recently I found myself yelling into the phone. (For those who do not know me, I should explain that this is an extraordinarily rare thing for me. As a rule, I never yell.)

Why was I yelling? I was trying to track down my healthcare flexible spending account card and my call was answered by an automated answering system at United Healthcare:

Automated Answering System (“Machine”): “Hello. How may I help you?”

Me: “I need help with my FSA card.”

Machine: “I think you are calling about financial accounts. Is this correct?”

Me: “No.”

Machine: “OK. Please tell me what you need help with.”

Me: “I need help with my flexible spending account card.”

Machine: “I think you are calling about financial accounts. Is this correct?”

Me: “NOOOOOO!!!!”

Machine: “Please hold for a representative.”


Representative: “Please give me your name and date of birth.”

Representative: ” Please give me your social security number.”

Me: “I gave all of this information to your machine. Didn’t it pass the details through to you?”

Representative: “Yes, but it pulled up the wrong records.”


For the record, I am not a Luddite. (And I’m not a yeller.) So I found myself wondering what the real issue is here.  While I yelled at the machine in a moment of frustration, the reality is that it can do only what it is programmed to do. Amazingly, my request for help with my flexible spending account card was not on its preprogrammed menu. Why would a large health insurance company like United Healthcare omit that? I assume that employees of the health insurance company made the mistake. But who pays the price? Not the machine, which is impervious to my frustration. It’s the frustrated customer.

But that’s not all. Once I finally reached a human at United Healthcare’s outsourced card services provider, I was told that they had sent out a card earlier but it had not been activated. Then I asked them why they didn’t contact me to make sure I had received my card. That question was met with complete silence. And, when I asked to speak to a manager, they put me on infinite hold.

This is not the best way of winning customer loyalty.

So what’s going on here? One might be justified in identifying the following issues:

  • No manifest care or consideration for the customer.
  • Incomplete mapping and implementation of the business process required to meet customer needs.
  • Inadequate feedback loops to provide notice when the system does not operate as planned.

All of these issues are squarely in the knowledge management wheelhouse. We understand who the customer is and make sure the customer is heard and served. We know how to map business processes thoroughly. And, because we practice a discipline built on reflection and continuous improvement, we know how to build and act on feedback loops.

None of this is rocket science. Yet this insurer did not pass the test. Do they need to hire more KM professionals in order to properly meet customer needs?

Of course, there is a more cynical interpretation of this entire scenario: The health insurance company knows exactly who its customer is and it is not me. It is my employer.

Unfortunately, I don’t see an obvious KM fix for this scenario. Do you?

[Photo Credit: Icons8 team on Unsplash]