Can a process have a personality?  People certainly feel differently when they’ve been subjected to a good or bad customer experience, so processes must have a personality right?

This week I contacted a long standing provider of estimating software at one of my clients.  They’ve not too long ago been acquired by a much larger vendor in the accounting industry.  To say their support was terrible would be an understatement.  So bad, that I advised the client to start looking at their alternatives in the market as I could see the way things were already heading.  Ironically, the same client also used one of their competitors for another area of the business and the experience couldn’t have been any more user friendly and helpful.

For me it was an interesting case, it was asking both companies exactly the same questions for doing the same job.  I won’t bore you – but it was a server migration due to cyber security enhancements we were doing.  The difference in responses, support process and general feeling afterwards has made me question can a process have a personality?


Both companies had an email address to start a support case.  Yes ticketing systems irritate me too.  I know where it was all going too.

In terms of process, I completely understand ticketing.  Being in the IT trade it’s unfortunately a necessary evil.

Supplier A, the one I expected to be terrible, quickly issued me with a ticket number and acknowledged my email.  All automated.  Sigh, I was already expecting them to be bad.

Supplier B, didn’t hear a thing for a while.  However, many hours later I get an automated response.  No score draws between them.

Supplier A later came back to me a day or so later with the attached migration guide which I wanted.  I read through it and it told me everything I needed to know.  Brilliant. I even wrote back to them thanking them for the speed and for such a well prepared response.  Pleasant surprise.

Supplier B, well… their next email back was asking me to sign up to a portal.  I’m technically not one of their customers, just acting on behalf of.  I don’t like taking up a end-customers own account, plus it’s usually fraught with difficulties in the fact that I have  different email domain.

I obviously wrote back and said I couldn’t get that response and complained, reaching out to a member of staff that I know of old directly.  Funnily enough, she did get back to me quick, but wasn’t as helpful as I used to remember.  I then tried calling.  That’s where things took a massive turn for the worst.  Someone with very thick almost unintelligible accent on the front line.  Who kept telling me they had to check with their colleague, said it was chargeable and basically touched a few of my nerves – I got referred to the account manager to get a quote for the work (work that I’m doing!).  I obviously hung up and sent a rant via email, honestly, I’m usually okay with accents but this was a struggle.

It was at this point I called the user of the software who had been copied in to everything and said they’re very unlikely at this rate for to be able to use it after I completed the work and they should really consider their alternatives.  Clearly the takeover of Supplier B meant that the people supporting it, didn’t know the product small dynamic and friendly is now replaced with big, difficult and belligerent.

Eventually I did get a call back apologising, again strong accent, difficult to understand.  Apparently a miss-communication.  Damn right it was.  My client had been paying support for years and never used it!


First and foremost, I can’t take out my personality out of this.  Any reader of my blog would have probably picked up my tolerance for fools and bad processes is pretty low too.  I have a personal bias, however as an auditor I’m pretty good at acknowledging that and knowing where it starts and ends.

I had pre-judged supplier A to be bad and supplier B to be good.  You may think, well, that’s fine – you’d have cut supplier B some slack when they failed to meet your expectations, they must have been really bad!  However, being objective, it’s equally as likely to be true that supplier B in my eyes had further to fall and more of a disappointment and supplier A that I was expecting to be bad was a pleasant unexpected surprise.

With personality, we’re in to the realms of feeling and perception.  What is intended to be sent isn’t necessarily received.  We need a system to deal with this!

Looking at Myers-Briggs personality types based on this interaction.  At Supplier A they were Extraverts, out there looking at my interests, they also Sensed my feedback Thought about the response in context of me and obviously preferred to have matters settled, so they were Judging.  ESTJ.  Efficient, outgoing, analytical, systematic, dependable, realistic.  Like to run the show and get things in an orderly fashion.  Yes, yes!  That was the personality of the process I experienced with Supplier A.

Supplier B, preferred to focus on their own processes and created barriers, very inwardly looking, so Introversion is a trait.  They didn’t really want to read and understand my email, preferring to work off their own iNtuition (which was wrong).  I would say they made decisions in an impersonal way, so Thinking, and Perceiving, they did seem to like to improvise and make things up!  So personality type INTP, intellectual logical, precise, reserved, flexible imaginative.  Original thinkers who enjoy speculating and creative problem solving.

Well, is this where my concept falls apart?  Maybe!  All of those things are positive traits in many respects.  My experience itself wasn’t positive – I’m still annoyed!  Personality types are always a bit on the positive leaning, I mean how many people would like a result that said they should be in a straight jacket after an online test?!  However logically, the process itself probably was all those things.  The intent of the process was clearly to demonstrate many of those positive qualities – but it still fell down in the execution.

Starting with why

However, let’s think back to my previous blog where I talked about Start With Why, larger businesses quite often lose the ‘why’ when they get to a certain size, the why is not externally focussed.  So my example was that Manchester Airport doesn’t focus upon Customer Satisfaction, this process doesn’t do that either.  We do not know the intent of the design of the process, but we could infer from the personality type that it’s inwardly looking and clearly to satisfy requirements internally.  Managing upwards rather than outwards or downwards is a very common trait in organisations.  Essentially, people become inwardly focussed on what they ‘think’ the boss wants.  Things trigger this, like oddly defined metrics – think about quickly answering support issues.

How many times do you reach out for customer support and get a quick bullshit answer that shuts you down but doesn’t answer your question.  You’re left thinking that the agent who answered can’t read or can’t be bothered to understand your question?  Yep, all the time.  It’s generally that there is pressure to answer questions quick and shut people down.  Ironically this behavior drives down customer satisfaction, increases irritation with the brand and doesn’t help keep long term customers.  In this case though, all the personality traits of INTP would make a lot of sense and my model would hold up!

Whether a customer support process should be inwardly looking and not looking to take direct feedback from external sources is up for debate – I wouldn’t do it, but can certainly see why an organisation that has a certain scale and size would.  Organisations over a size of about 150 people can start to exhibit their own gravitational pull and things just stop working as they should, processes start to satisfy internal needs.  If you’re interested in that I’d suggest Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell would be a good read.

Can a process have personality then?

Yes, absolutely. The designers, collaborators who come together to design a process or decide “that’s the way we do it here” (John Kotter is a good author on this topic), ascribe that method, written process, ways of working or however you want to call it with its personality.  Whether we like it or not, human beings spent their entire lives trying to make sense of things forming opinions, judging and looking for like minded tribes.  It’s built-in, automatic – we even personify our pets with human traits.  Your cat doesn’t like you, it just likes that you feed it!

This week, I’m left with a good and bad customer experience.  In the case of the bad I don’t blame the individual, whilst I think it’s entirely unsuitable for someone to be int hat role without great communication skills and a huge degree of enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge about the products they look after.  That’s my personal opinion of what a good process should contain for me, to achieve what I want.  Inside that organisation will be layers upon layers of other processes, all with their own personalities that come together to explain why that individual ended up in that role.  Success to them may be very different to success for me.  The process to deliver that success is therefore set to do what it has to do.  It’s personality has all the qualities it needs to meet its aims too.

If I met Supplier B’s customer support process down the pub though, we’d have to take matters outside.

Wrapping up

Processes can and do have personalities, they interact with personalities of those working in the process as well as the individuals experiencing the outcome of that process.  Those personalities can collide and that in itself can deliver a bad experience.  Like any process, you need to ask why you’re doing it – what’s it for and what is the focus of the outcome.  Internal pressures, doing good or just always delighting your customers.

Here at Unleashed we’re process designers, obsessed with IT systems, process improvements and management systems.  We are here if you need an impartial view on how you do things and ideas on how to refocus the way you do things.  You make the tea and we’ll bring the biscuits!