The Health Check

In order to maintain my private pilot license, every two years I have to present myself at the office of a doctor who bears the fancy title of DME (Designated Medical Examiner) but he is just a physician who has the distinctly unpleasant task of groping, prodding and poking me on behalf of the Civil Aviation Authority. The violation of my personal space aims to identify any condition(s) that might lead to me being a danger to myself and others in air or on the ground.

Of course, I do not enjoy this rite one bit. For some reason, everything about doctors is cold – the instruments, the floor in the waiting area, even the doctors hands!  That aside, there is always the fear that after all that intrusion, the doctor may say (coldly), “Hmm, it looks like we have a problem.” I don’t have the foggiest idea why, but for some reason, doctors default to speaking in plural when delivering bad news – what’s up with that? Last time I checked, it’s MY body we are talking about here. I am always ready to hear the pronouncement, “Sorry, WE seem to have a problem.  I cannot renew YOUR medical license” and with that, I would be grounded. However, unpleasant and anxiety-inducing as it may be, I recognize that this is an important check. Part of the examination is based on information that I volunteer. For example, the doctor will ask me if I have a drinking problem, in a diplomatic way, of course. This is phrased as “on average, how many units of alcohol do you consume per week”. I suspect many pilots, after thinking long and hard, somehow do a bit of round-down on this answer.  I also suspect the DMEs, in their cold assessment, are aware of this and hence they also round up the number with an even bigger factor – the final number thus ends up being closer to reality.

On a serious note, I think it’s the spirit behind this check that counts and I am supposed to think of the value of giving truthful answers because my fitness may later come to haunt me and innocent people as well. Finally, the mandatory urine sample will show if I have been using some odd substances (banned or otherwise). Away from this, I think what matters even more is adopting a constant personal review of my fitness as a pilot. I have in mind such things as voluntarily grounding yourself when you do not feel up to the task, making healthy choices and changes that give you the best chance of being fit when things fall apart (sometimes literally) in the cockpit.

This annual medical rite got me thinking. How do CSPs subject themselves to uncomfortable questions? Sure we do have risk assessments, audits and compliance reviews and we meekly submit to the regulatory bodies that check on us etc. but let’s not lie to each other – all these can be side-stepped and the whole assurance regime can become a tick-box exercise. We have all worked with a manager whose philosophy when it comes to audits is to deny everything, accept nothing and confuse everybody. He will have clean audits because the auditors just grow exasperated. As to whether he is running a tight ship, you already know. A fellow with such a mentality is a danger to himself and to others. Yet, we know his ilk is not in small numbers.

I am thinking of uncomfortable questions such as the following, which may not just apply to CSPs but any business.

  • When we say we are customer-centric, who are we “really” fooling? How many customers keep experiencing issues that we knew about 6 months ago? With all the data and systems available to us, why is bill shock still a matter of debate?
  • We track all manner of metrics and we gloat when we hit revenue, EBITDA, cash-flow targets but who keeps track of the stuff that we mess up?
  • More importantly, of the stuff that we (habitually) mess up, do we even bother to rectify it within reasonable time and is there any urgency to address our shortcomings? See a very sad indictment in this article and also in this one.
  • Are we fair to our suppliers? When a supplier has to make a dozen calls to follow-up on a payment that is overdue because our process is so convoluted that nobody can get it right, what are we doing? See another sad indictment exposed here. We should all hang our heads in shame.
  • Are we truly entrepreneurial? When we delay a product launch so much because we do not want to take a few risks, is that fair to the shareholders? Is it even fair to our employees?

Set aside the allure of the fancy numbers, let the CEO use them to blow his trumpet during shareholder meetings – he can hit all the right notes with the figures as they look. It’s time we (internally) started asking the uncomfortable questions behind the numbers – for in so doing, we may learn how to become better.

  • Oh, great – so we hit our revenue targets? How much revenue leakage did we have in that period?
  • Excellent news – we acquired 1 million more customers this financial year? Of the existing base which has loyally stuck with us, how many customers have had a complaint logged in our customer care center that was resolved way after the SLAs that we set?
  • Fantastic – we launched all these new tools-of-the-devil and our services really excited the market but how many were launched way past our product road-map because we could not talk to each other on time?
  • Marvelous – cashflow this year looked so great, but how hard did we arm-twist our small suppliers by not paying them on time until their ships almost capsized?

If we can be honest with ourselves and the way we run our business, folks will trust us more and we shall have no more need to be double-faced about our numbers.

Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu
Joseph Nderitu is a consultant who specializes in revenue assurance. He was previously an internal audit manager with responsibility that covered Airtel Africa's 17 countries, where he led reviews of the Revenue Assurance, Customer Service and Sales & Marketing functions. Prior to his stint at Airtel, he was an RA manager at Safaricom in Kenya. He holds an MSc Degree in Information Systems.

In addition to looking for better ways to do revenue assurance, Joseph spends his spare time finding new ways of eating the hole in the doughnut.