Tag Archives: bad customer service

Add Constraints to Processes Carefully

Take great care in adding constraints to processes to avoid doing so needlessly.

Online you will frequently find forms that have required fields that needn’t be. Certainly if you were designing with focus on what is best for customers those requirements rarely make sense. Occasionally a required field is a sensible constraint on an online form but so often they add unnecessary constraints.

I frequently find those forms even requiring a false answer since a response is required and none of the options are true. Often this is because the organization is thinking of the boxes they expect users to fit themselves into rather than thinking how to create the best user experience.

I wrote previously about a company representative that suggested a customer change their name because the computer system didn’t accept names with 2 characters. Constraints on creating a secure password are a frequent failure of web sites for the last 10 years.

Man without arms denied housing loan due to inability to provide fingerprints

because Wu Jianping has no arms, creditors claimed they could not give him a loan since he was unable to be fingerprinted.

After the case was publicized and there was a great deal of negative publicity on social media the banks modified their process and approved the loan. But your organization shouldn’t have as the mistake-proofing (obviously not mistake-proofing at all) that when the process doesn’t quite work well then rely on a massive social media outcry which is a signal to us to straighten out the issue.

Frequently I see unnecessary constraints creating the edge case excuse. By burdening your process with unnecessary constraints you create edge cases that fail and then use the excuse that each of the edge cases is rare and therefore you can’t justify the expense of fixing them.

But if you designed the process sensibly in the first place the edge case never would have failed and you wouldn’t need special work arounds for such “edge cases.” A simple example of this is unnecessarily complex web page code that fails if to submit a button without javascript. Yes, a small number of users won’t have enabled all javascript to run (today anyway) so it is an “edge case” to deal with if you don’t have the form work without javascript. But there is no decent reason to have it fail in most cases.

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Support Theatre

Support theatre provides the appearance of supporting customers when in fact it is just treating customers poorly based on a management system that disrespects customers. It is a similar idea to security theatre that has become so popular for government in the USA for the last 10 years.

Dilbert does a good job of illustrating “support theatre” in this webcast:

I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. This is not some accident. Management has designed systems with the attitude that customer’s time doesn’t matter.

Companies that practices support theatre are usually very focused on cutting the company’s cost and not “wasting” the companies time fixing the problems they create for customers or even helping customers put on “band-aids” to cope with the injuries the company has inflicted on the customer. Those companies also don’t learn from their failures to improve and stop future customers from suffering the consequences of their poor processes.

It is painful to interact with such companies. I find that most large companies I am forced to interact with are deeply into support theatre and only very superficially concerned with customers. It is a shame that the type of customer focus that those interested in management improvement have been advocating for decades is ignored by so many companies today.

If you care about your customers and want to build an organization that prospers by delighting customers go to the customer (user) gemba. Focus on how to improve the customer experience. You likely will have many easy opportunities to improve how things operate since the experience for customers today is often so bad.

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersPracticing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at AppleCustomer Service is Important (2006)Simple Customer Care Strategy: CommunicateUse Urls, Don’t Use Click x, Then Click y, Then Click z InstructionsHow to protect yourself from your credit card companyVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man (2008)Is Poor Service the Industry Standard? (2006)Incredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Practicing Mistake-Promoting Instead of Mistake-Proofing at Apple

Mistake proofing is a wonderful management concept. Design systems not just to be effective when everything goes right but designing them so mistakes are prevented.

I have had several bad customer experiences in the short time I have had my iPad mini. One of the most pitiful is caused by mistake-promoting process design. As the name implies that isn’t a good idea. Mistake-proofing processes is a good practice to strive for; processes that create extra opportunities for failure impacting customers negatively are a bad idea.

My experience below is but one mistake-promoting practice that has caught me in its grips in the short time I have owned my iPad mini. I want to view books on the mini but can’t find any book reader. So I decide, fine I’ll just install the Kindle reader app.

I go to do so (run into additional issues but get through them) and then Apple decides for this free app, on an iPad I just bought with my credit card a week ago, to block me from getting what I need and force me to revalidate my credit card. This is lame enough, but I am used to companies not caring about the customer experience, so fine, what hoops does Apple want to force me through?

But guess what, the unnecessary steps Apple decided to force me through are broken so I can’t just waste my time to make them happy. No. They have created a failure point where they never should have forced the customer in the first place.

So they not only didn’t mistake-proof the process they mistake-promoted the process by creating a unnecessary step that created an error that could have been avoided if they cared about mistake proofing. But instead they use a mistake-promoting process. As a consumer it is annoying enough to cope with the failures companies force me through due to bad management systems that don’t mistake proof processes.

Companies creating extra opportunities to foist mistakes onto customers is really something we shouldn’t have to put up with. And when they then provide lousy and then even incomprehensible “support” such the “change your name” vision Apple decided to provide me now it is time to move on.

After 5 years of buying every computing device from Apple, they have lost my entire good will in one week of mess ups one after the other. I knew the reason I moved to Apple, the exceptional Macbook Air, was no longer the unmatched hardware it once was; but I was satisfied and was willing to pay a huge iPad premium to avoid the typical junk most companies foist on you. But with Apple choosing to make the process as bad as everyone else there isn’t a decent reason to pay them a huge premium.

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Bad Weather is Part of the Transportation System

The job of managers is to create a robust system that delivers value to customers. A system that fails constantly (fails during the continual variation the system faces) is a failed system. Bad weather is part of the variation airlines face. Any management system has to cope with the variation that it faces. The management system must be designed and managed so that the organization successfully delivers value to customers under the conditions the organization will face.

The air travel system in the USA is a disgrace for so many reasons it is hard to catalogue them all. One, of many, is how fragile the system is; causing massive (nation-wide) customer harm multiple times a year due to weather. Weather is sometimes bad. If your organization fails when there is bad weather, fix that problem (make your system robust in the face of bad weather), because you are not going to be able to fix the weather to let your un-robust system be effective as it is.

Instead airlines only response seems to be to get their friends in government to approve anti-competitive mergers to eliminate competition and allow failed organizations to become even larger and harm even more people. Airlines should design robust systems that work in the environment they will face (which they don’t do now).

Their planes don’t fall out the sky when they face bad weather. The engineers behind designing planes have made them very robust. Pilots have been trained to handle variation they will face. And yes, the system has been designed with adjustments to avoid flying into conditions that are risky.

The safety of the air transportation system is very good. The management of airlines in most every other aspect is pitiful, and has been for decades.

The managers running the airlines have done amazingly bad job of creating robust organizations capable of delivering given the variation they know they will face (weather, mechanical problems, IT problems, etc.) for decades. Poor management is the cause of these failures that result in harm to customers. Weather is not the cause. Poor management, over decades, resulting in incredible fragile systems that constantly punish customers is the responsibility of the airlines. And they have done an incredibly bad job at creating a robust system to deliver value to customers.

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Simple Customer Care: Communicate

Some management issues are hard. You are often balancing priorities. Sometimes though it is extremely simple: either you have concern for customers and take actions to back that up or you have some concern but don’t do anything about it.

Here are some examples that show you really just don’t care.

If you have invested millions in setting up computer systems to authorize, and reject, payments for say a credit card and you fail to notify customers when you reject a charge you just really don’t care. There might have been an excuse 10 years ago that it was too difficult to notify people. Today if your IT people can’t do that, hire a new CIO and have them create an IT support system that isn’t an embarrassment to any institution relying on it.

Another sign of an extremely weak IT and customer focus presence in an organization would be deleting records of your customers after 6 month or 1 year or ever. Again this is common among the too-big-to-fail financial institutions that seem much more able to design system to extract fees and justify ludicrous bonuses to executives than to provide the most basic services for customers.

Amazon, and most any non financial-too-big-too-fail institution, keeps your records available for you. The too-big-too-fail crowd though won’t keep records as well as the site you buy books from. They slap fees on customers if they want to get the paper statements they used to get for free. That is fine with me (the fees are far too high, but the concept is fine with me). The too-big-too-fail crowd wants to save money by not mailing you paper. Fine.

Then, deciding to delete your records after 6 months, or a year… is just a sign you have no interest in serving customers. Other than an organization that has no interest in customer service, suggesting such a thing would be a direct ticket to remedial training on providing value to customers.

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Technical Non-Support

A bit of fun from Dilbert. I have had the exact experience Dilbert does of tech support refusing to think about the actual symptoms of the problem and insisting on following some script and wasting my time – repeatedly. The second act takes on another time waster with a management tip from Dogbert: “Always postpone meetings with time wasting morons.” Dogbert hasn’t quite adopted the respect for people principle.

via: The final word on making meetings better

Related: Dilbert and DemingFinancial Planning Made EasyCEOs Plundering Corporate Coffersposts on meetings

Trust Your Staff to Make Decisions

The failure to give your organization the flexibility to serve customers is a big mistake. Many companies make this mistake. Often the basic problem is managers don’t trust that their systems to hire and develop people that will make good decisions. The solution to this problem is not to give your staff no authority. The solution is to manage your systems so that you can trust your people. This is not as easy to do as it is to say, I will grant that.

Southwest Airlines and Zappos are companies that do respect employees. And those employees then provide great service. But it isn’t a simple thing. To truly manage a system with respect for people isn’t as easy as just putting up some slogans. But if you want to provide good customer service this is one requirement. There are plenty of others: continual improvement, evidence based management, customer focus, systems thinking

These thoughts were prompted by a nice post, jetBlue Just Blew It

You see, when I booked my flight last night I used their online system (good) and made a mistake in booking the date for my return (bad). I’m going to Boston for the weekend and accidently booked by return flight a month later in August instead of the 4 days I was looking for.

Of course their site has a lot of bookings and almost no one makes an error like this. But any UI designer who looks at their site could see that it’s absolutly possible since the length of the trip is never revealed except for the flight dates. (I”m arguing that they could put in a little fading header that tells you how long your trip is for.) If’ I’d see anywhere that my trip was scheduled for 35 days I’d have immediately know there was an issue. (I could make a simple change to the jetBlue UI that would solve this problem for everyone within a day.)

Today when I looked at my emailed itinerary I immediately spotted the problem and went online to change my ticket. They have a $100 change fee which I paid thinking I’d give them a call and that surely they’d waive that. After all, it wasn’t a change I was asking for, it was the ticket I wanted in the first place. It was less than 24 hours and the flight wasn’t for a month.

But no.

In speaking to the customer service rep who ‘called’ a manager. I was informed that I had only a 4 hour window to make any changes and that after that, there was nothing anyone could do. You see, no one at jetBlue customer service has the ‘authority’ to refuse this fee. It was company policy that they couldn’t actually do anything.

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Southwest Not Delta or United

One of the posts highlighted in the last post was one example of how Southwest behaves. It wasn’t a one time thing. It was a common result of the system Southwest has in place where they treat customers like human beings that should be respected (as Southwest does with employees).

Then you have the typical horrible treatment the other airlines practice. Like this example where Delta damages this guys bike and refuses to accept responsibility. That is until they suffered a huge amount of additional ill will over such horrible treatment of James Lawrence, who is participating in 20 half iron mans to raise money to help provide systems to provide water for those in Africa in need of it.

Which is similar to when United broke the guitar of this guy, except United I guess figured more bad publicity really doesn’t matter given that it seems to basically be their business plan. On the bright side if you do a good job of complaining you can actually do well. But thousands of people (probably tens or hundreds of thousands) suffer the results of systems destine to provide horrible service.

Systems of people function in repeatably ways. Based on the horrible service airlines provide you can be almost certain their managers do not treat employees with respect. When organizations treat front line staff as costs that need to be minimized and as unthinking, untrustworthy problems they will almost certainly pass on the bad treatment to customers.

Related: Airline Managers Disrespect CustomersCustomers Get Dissed and TellRespect for Employees at Southwest AirlinesVery Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Worse Hotel Service the More You Pay

The more you pay for your hotel room the more likely they will charge to provide decent WiFi in your room. Whether a company tries to rip you off with exorbitant prices, or lousy service, is just a function of their lack of respect for customers. Obviously it is cheap to provide decent WiFi (as staying at numerous cheap hotels shows – nearly all offer WiFi completely free).

Most expensive hotels show they do not respect their customers. Some actually do rise to the level of a typical budget, and cheaper, hotels and motels so it isn’t all expensive hotels that fail to meet this low standard. The management of those hotels come from the same school of management thought that produces our bankers.

Jeff Bezos captures one difference between poor managers (prevalent in many spreadsheet focused managers) and lean manufacturing managers with the quote: “There are two kinds of companies, those that work to try to charge more and those that work to charge less.”

Thoughts on: Hotel WiFi Should Be a Right, Not a Luxury

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersVerizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites ManIs Poor Service the Industry Standard?

Credit Card Company Tries Providing Value

Most credit card issues seem to use business models based on tricking customers into paying high fees. PartnersFirst is focusing on providing value to customers. A Different Kind of Credit-Card Company

PartnersFirst is a different kind of credit-card company. Started in 2007 with funding from Western Alliance Bancorp (WAL), the fledgling firm has three key tenets: keep rates steady, eliminate fees, and rigorously evaluate the risk of potential customers. PartnersFirst mainly makes money from the interest it charges borrowers, whereas most credit-card companies also rake in huge fees. “I realized that there was an opportunity to give cardholders a square deal and still make a profit,”

Credit-card companies have made billions on affinity cards over the years – but regulators and lawmakers worry that consumers get raw deals. Critics say colleges put their financial interests ahead of those of their students, encouraging them to rack up high-cost debt. “Affinity cards started simply as a product that alumni associations could offer members, but alumni boards realized they could bargain for more cash up front,”

The companies involved in banking and credit cards in the USA have been hostile to customers for quite some time. I have been waiting for someone to decide to provide value to customers and take a fair profit. Hopefully PartnersFirst will continue this model, though I am suspicious, if they succeed they will be bought by another financial firm that is too-big-to-fail in order to once again restrict competition via their standard practice of buying any competitors instead of providing value to customers.

Related: How to protect yourself from your credit card companyDon’t Let the Credit Card Companies Play You for a FoolRetail Credit Card Fees Much Higher in the USA

United Breaks Guitars

Unfortunately companies like United have created cultures where people take pride in doing their job poorly. And the continued long term customer hostility companies take shows no sign of letting up. My suggestion is to take Southwest or Jet Blue (or Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific).

Unfortunately sometimes you need to travel somewhere that no airline that cares about customer service flies. Then just hope somehow the broken system you must trust to get you someplace somehow doesn’t fail you too badly. Or you can follow the increasingly common trend and publicize the horrible service you were subjected to, in your blog or perhaps your own webcast.

Related: Airline QualityCEO Flight AttendantJapan Airlines CEO on CEO PayRespect for Employees at Southwest AirlinesIncredibly Bad Customer Service from Discover Card

Disruptive Innovation Example: Eliminate Your Phone Bill

Clayton Christensen’s ideas on disruptive innovation are very powerful. I have written about Innovation Thinking with Clayton Christensen previously. Here is an example of such innovation. All you need is a broadband internet connection and you can Kiss your phone bill good-bye:

The Ooma service uses so-called Voice over Internet Protocol (or VOIP) technology to deliver calls to your existing phone using a broadband connection. Consumers need only to buy a $249 Ooma Hub (it was a hefty $399 when the service launched last year); all domestic calls are free. (Ooma charges a few pennies a minute for international calls to landlines and 20 to 30 cents a minute for overseas calls to mobile phones. Calls from Ooma box to Ooma box are free.)

Replacing your phone service is, of course, just the start for Ooma. In some ways, calling is the Trojan horse to get the box in your house and then figure out other services to sell, like enhanced network security or kid-safe Web surfing.

I ordered mine from Amazon for $203 and have been using it for a month, it has been great. Relatively easy to setup (they had a pretty good customer survey and I recommended they use colored cables – they color cables in the drawings in the users guide but give you 3 white cable to use – they are different types of cables so it isn’t tough to figure out but that would make it a bit easier).

I have been using Vonage for awhile and it is ok, but I don’t see any reason to pay each month when Ooma doesn’t charge a monthly fee (even on the lowest option on Vonage the bill is over $22/month). When I tried to cancel Vonage they refuse to allow it through the web site. Then forced me through voice mail maze only to then say we only answer the phone for you between 9-5 EST on workdays (that is about 75% of the time they are unavailable). I called back a week later, when I got a chance and they forced me through 10 minutes of wasted time but at lest I was able to get it canceled – once they refused to allow cancellation over the web site I was worried the customer disservice would be greater than it was.

Related: Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive InnovationSave Money on FoodThe Innovators Solution by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor – Using Google to Eliminate IT Costs

Making Life Difficult for Customers

Companies seem to think technology is an excuse to provide bad service. Or maybe they don’t need any excuse at all to do so, based on how often they provide bad service. My latest experience with lame pointy haired boss technology came while looking to watch a football game online. Years ago you could listen to any Wisconsin Badger game over the internet – very simple, no special software (just the simple free Real Audio plugin). In subsequent years (just to play a simple audio stream that had worked in previous years they kept requiring upgrades and their ever more complex required software would fail very often). Then the option of listen to online radio broadcasts disappeared altogether (for schools that chose to prevent this anyway).

Now sites that provide video seem incapable of making it a simple process. They chose not to use standard open software solutions. Instead they require you follow their desires to use this or that and then the whole operation fails quite often. Google, no surprise, is an exception (yes it worked prior to Google, they were just smart enough to buy it and not break it). YouTube just works. Can others copy this, idea? Some can, but many phbs decide that really everyone that uses their web sites should be happy to try and download special software and make configuration changes… to get their site working on their personal computers.

The idea that playing video online is solved problem and just making it more and more complex is not a good idea for users no matter if they want to add some bullet points to their boss on why they should get a larger raise this year because they got the engineers to add on some additional new feature that no-one actually wants. Granted This solved problem is a bit lame now, so I am all for improving it. But this should be a process that goes for simpler solutions, not more complex ones. And certainly any timed to the operating system of the end user is too idiotic to consider.
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Gobbledygook

How is this for Gobbledygook? Your home banking access code is expired! You must change your access code at this time. Your access code:

* may be between 4 and 20 characters in length
* must not have been changed within the last 0 days
* may not be one of 3 previously used access codes
* must not repeat the same character more than 0 times
* must not contain 0 characters from previous access code
* must contain at least 0 non-alphabetic character(s)
* may contain the following special characters: !”#$%&()+,-/;<=>?[\]^_`{|}*’
* must contain at least 0 alphabetic character(s)

1) What does “must not have been changed within the last 0 days” mean?
2) How about “must not repeat the same character more than 0 times” ?
3) Or “must not contain 0 characters from previous access code” ?

This kind of stuff is what makes people think computer programmers are crazy. I am sure the software allows users to set criteria. Then this screen is suppose to explain the criteria to users. It seems to me, if the selection is 0, then the correct procedure is to not display anything about it to the user.

Really I am not sure how “must not contain 0 characters from previous access code” is even to be applied if an positive integer were used. I guess you could not allow using any characters from the last access code, which seems crazy to me to begin with, but setting a number seems totally bizarre. I could see setting a requirement that says no repeat of the same sequence of x characters. I think that would probably not work well, but at least I understand what it would mean.

Related: Change Your NameBad Software Visual ControlsComplicating Simplicityweb usability resourcesSchneier on Security

Not Exactly Lean Packaging

HP shatters excessive packaging world record

Stephen said: “Imagine our excitement as we opened it, hoping against hope that it might contain a copy of some c-class virtual connect firmware that actually works.”

Sadly not. What the überbox did contain was 16 smaller boxes “which in turn [each] contained (wrapped in foam so they wouldn’t get broken) exactly two sheets of A4 paper”

It is hard to imagine what management system creates such solutions. But it is not hard to image Dilbert’s pointy haired boss fitting right in there.

Related: Is Poor Service the Industry Standard (HP)?Muda/wasteCustomers Get Dissed and TellCompanies in Need of Customer Focus

Verizon Provides Lousy Service = Dog Bites Man

It is obvious a few companies don’t have any ability to, provide even just reasonably bad service (for them the goal of decent service is so far away as to not be reasonable). How often do Verizon (based on their lousy track record I won’t get FIOS), Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T, United… get blasted for horrible custom service? So often it is not news. Still, the stories of their failures are written about over and over as they make so many people so mad some can’t help posting yet another story about the failures to value customers. Seth Godin is one recent example – Learning from frustration:

In this case, Verizon is acting like a monopoly (they’re not, at least not any more) and they are viewing customer interactions as an expense, not an investment.

So, I start by flipping this on its head. Verizon spends a fortune on advertising and outbound marketing. How much of that budget would they have to allocate/invest in order to turn their customer service into a discussion-worthy best in the world? Or at least enough to keep people from switching in disgust? Not much, it turns out.

Related: Dell, Reddit and Customer FocusMore Bad Customer Service Examples 🙁Customer Hostility from Discover CardIs Bad Service the Industry Standard?Ritz Carlton and Home DepotBetter and Different

Why is Customer Service So Bad?

Why is it? I really don’t know. It drives me crazy though – having to put up with horrible service again and again. Is it possible that only a few people actually care about service? I know I care about it, but given the preference of business to continually provide horrible service it should be that you can just provide plan mediocre service and take their business. Yet these companies providing what seems likes worse and worse service somehow stay in business.

Related: Is Bad Service the Industry Standard?Customers Get Dissed and TellPoor Customer Service from Discover Card

Price Discrimination in the Internet Age

Re: Boing Boing post – Why HP’s region coding excuse is bogus

There is a simple method for large multi-national companies to use to protect against currency fluctuation. They can use foreign exchange futures to do so. Companies do this all the time (some also chose not to for their own business reasons). “Foreign Exchange is the largest of the global financial markets. Daily trading volume in the currency markets is estimated to be 1.1 US trillion dollars.” – Smith Barney Citigroup. Some companies choose to speculate on the direction they believe exchange rates will go (either directly, or by not hedging when they believe rates will move in their favor and hedging when they predict doing so will benefit them).

In fact the United States government gives beneficial tax treatment (60% of profits are classified as long term capital gains, regardless of the holding period, thus reducing the taxes owed) to profits from “futures” trading. The reasoning is that creating a market for companies to hedge their risks is so important we must provide tax benefits to create a market for this activity. Some may think that the special tax advantages are more likely due to large payments from lobbyists to those who write the tax code than the merits of such tax law. In fact I may be one of them. Farmers often use futures contracts (on, for example, wheat or corn) in much the same way that companies can use future currency contracts to hedge their risks. That point is mentioned by the lobbyists, I would imagine.

The argument that you need to cripple products by geographic area to cope with currency fluctuations is false. It might be that a company wants to practice Price Discrimination (definition from US Federal Trade Commission or from the Digital Economist) to charge more where they can get more and less where they can get less. In the view of such a company, the internet, and other factors, have made it increasingly easy for people to buy in the low cost region and resell the items in the region where the company wants to charge higher prices. If you want to keep practicing price descrimination as a company you have to erect barriers to the free trade of your products by your customers.

Reimporting drugs is another clear example where companies try to use price discrimination – to charge US consumers more than Canadian consumers. Drug companies have successfully created legal road blocks to those trying to get around the geographic price discrimination. However, since lately those responsible for enforcing those laws have not been very eager to do so you can imagine the drug companies would like a drug that only worked in the country it was purchased. Another example of price discrimination are the regional versions of Windows.

I happen to believe companies should have the right to practice price discrimination. And in fact they should have the right to make products that have replacement parts that have been crippled to work only in products sold in specific countries. I would rather deal with companies that were trying to provide me more value not less. So I would be reluctant to buy from companies that practice such anti-consumer behavior. And luckily the internet and blogs are making it very difficult for companies to hind such practices. My guess is once attention is focused on such practices some companies will take advantage of such behavior by pledging “to do no evil.” And those companies will gain customers. The process will be quite a bit more confusing in the real world but that is how things will play out in the long run.

Hedging Currency Fluctuations: