This easy to get wrong little sum, has been perplexing lots of puzzle lovers. It’s an old one but recently been doing the rounds online. On a recent Which? twitter feed only 28% polled got the right answer by the time I contributed. How can something so simple be so hard to get right?

Tempting as it is to dive headlong into the calculation, the trick is to follow the ‘Order of Operation’ a mnemonic mathematical guide known as BODMAS. First the B; do what’s in the brackets first; in this
case there are no brackets. Then the O for order, left to right, DM designates first priority to division and multiplication over AS, addition and subtraction. In this case 7 divided by 7, and 7 multiplied by 7 come first, giving 1 and 49, then add and subtract always left to right to give the answer……50!  

A common answer is 56, frustrating those who are good at arithmetic but whizz through without the rules.

The point of the order of operation is
of course to provide a reference point when things get complicated, to help eliminate error and provide a commonly understood framework for consistency. There are numerous examples in IT computing and maths where these rules exist.

Customer service journeys today can be complex affairs from the perspective of the customer, who struggles with a myriad of options, online, social media, phone and maybe face to face.  Often an organisation striving to anticipate call and online demand in order to supply the right resource at the right
touchpoint, will get the balance wrong because they haven’t got sight of the complete customer journey, invariably leading to brand damage.

Over the past few
years there has been a significant increase in complexity in every aspect of our lives from financial products, car leasing, travel and associated services, media packages, phone bundles, health information; the list goes on. And of course, when we are all bombarded by information from all sources, any complexity merely adds to our frustration. This bottleneck of explanation manifests itself in our repeated attempts to get to the truth from the source, in whichever communication channels are available to us on our mobile; and that’s pretty much them all. If we don’t get satisfaction then many of us will share our once private frustration on public social channels, again leading to brand damage.

I’m not advocating the rigidity of BODMAS because at the end of the day customer service is more of an art than a science. However, there are a few “rules” that could be useful in deciding how to reshape services and how to deal with demand. In the same
way as multiplication always comes before say addition, then testing changes to product and services should always be road-tested first with customer service operations. So a mass advertising sales campaign or a change to billing protocol or a change to customer benefits should never be undertaken without testing the impact on people or systems who will do the explaining. Significant changes in operations should always be tested against the customer journey map and sensitivity analysis conducted to make sure that, put simply, we are still pleasing most of the people most of the time.

The more for less agenda, which has become part of every company’s DNA since 2008, can throw up some interesting algorithmic
cost benefit ratios about the operations space; if we could tilt the ship to be less of x and more of the inexpensive y then we can achieve eye watering savings. Sometimes these seem to be too compelling to resist, without a rules (principles?) based approach, and can quickly lead to employee and customer dissatisfaction and critically loss of trust in equal measures.

Priorities will change depending on brands and sectors, for some the order of priority will always be customer experience and they have figured out the way to measure and constantly respond to changes. In other words, they have a successful version of BODMAS and they know what goes in the brackets. For others they are stabbing in the dark and likely to come up with the wrong answer when changing services, risking doing the wrong thing perhaps for the right reasons.

We were helping unravel some of these complex customer journeys at our fantastic Customer Experience Journey Mapping Workshop in London this week with Oracle, using proven techniques and methodologies to uncover the pain points and options for how to fix them. Our next session is being hosted by HMRC in Newcastle on 21 March so please join us – more info here.

In addition, CX and measurement are firmly back on the agenda at our forthcoming ‘Future of CX’ session being hosted by
BSi in Milton Keynes on 8 March. Dr Liberty Vittert, professor of maths and statistics at the University of Glasgow will be taking us through our paces re what we measure and how we measure; perhaps with BODMAS still at the core, but certainly providing food for thought to take us to the next level.