"Neil Smith's brilliant insights into removing these barriers and empowering employees to produce creative ideas are a must-read for managers everywhere."

- Bill George, Professor of Management Practice, Harvard Business School

Neil Smith, CEO of Promontory Growth and Innovation, helps Fortune 750 companies dramatically improve performance by increasing profitability.

Management Blocking

When customers question a charge on their credit card bill, a process called dispute resolution kicks in. The credit card company acts as kind of a broker between the customer and the merchant. The process involves the credit card company sending multiple letters to each party, and problems can take up to six months to resolve. One long-term employee in a particular credit card dispute department had a brilliant idea to streamline the process. His idea was to get both parties—cardholder and merchant—on the phone at the outset to discuss the dispute and see if it could be resolved with just a simple conversation. Not only would this reduce both cost and complexity within the organization, but it would also increase customer service to both parties by resolving disputes far more quickly.

The dispute department manager was against the idea. She said it would be too difficult to get the merchant and the customer on the phone at the same time, because merchants don’t work in the evenings when customers are home. The employee believed the merchants would be happy to make calls in the evening if it meant resolving disputes sooner. He believed customer service wasn’t a nine-to-five operation, and ultimately the choice was up to the merchant. The rest of the department knew that these arguments, no matter how well founded, would make no difference. Based on previous experiences with this manager, people in the department were not convinced that a concern for the merchant was the real reason this idea was shot down.

The manager felt threatened by an idea raised by one of her reports and as a result she continued to shoot it down. When the idea was finally implemented, long-term disputes were cut by two thirds. In a third of the cases merchants recognized mistakes and in another third customers accepted the charges when they had them explained.