Wouldn’t it be great if you could solve problems before they happen? While a problem free world may be far from our present reality, I am encouraged to learn that there are steps that we can take to improve our ability to recognize and resolve problems before they happen in real-time. The solution to developing this problem awareness mindset is presented in a book I just finished reading: Michael A. Roberto’s book titled, “Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen“. Michael provides a refreshing perspective to problem solving strategy that is supported by many proven examples in actual practice today.
As we are all painfully aware, not all problems can be anticipated regardless of the tools that we have at our disposal. This does not mean that we should regard these efforts as futile, but rather we need to develop a different mindset. As leaders in our various industries, we need to maintain an ever-increasing awareness of how our processes and products are performing long after the images have left the computer stations or drafting boards that were used to create them.
We can choose to be the hunter or the hunted – find the problem before it finds you! The basic premise of the title, “Know What You don’t Know”, suggests that the pursuit of knowledge will perpetuate the desire to learn even more. In the spirit of the true lean culture, we are continually learning, striving to acquire new knowledge, and in turn sharing that knowledge throughout the organization.
After reading this book, it becomes even clearer how a company, no matter how strong, can also succumb and fall prey to the pitfalls identified in this book. More importantly, however, and perhaps the greatest take away, is that this book also shows how to recognize and overcome these pitfalls that prevent problems from surfacing before they escalate into a major crisis or catastrophe. Toyota’s recent high profile recalls serve as a present day example of how an organization’s communication and decision making processes can fail to avert a major campaign and the unnecessary and tragic loss of life.
As we are learning through the investigations surrounding Toyota, the information required to act was “known” to the company yet they failed to acknowledge or respond to this information until it was too late. One of the core themes in “Know What You don’t Know” is to create a culture of free flowing communication – the ability to share any news – good or bad. Clearly this is a common frustration experienced by many organizations and one of the leading causes of infrastructure breakdowns and failure.
Well written and thoroughly researched, Michael A. Roberto’s book represents one of the better investments I have made in my personal library. If this book isn’t on your team’s mandatory reading list, it should be.
Toyota continues to be plagued by recalls. The current acceleration issues (either floor mats or “sticky” accelerators), braking issues on the Prius Hybrid, and now reports in the USA of steering problems with 2009 and 2010 Corollas. While the majority of the news reports focus on the next steps to repair faulty vehicles, the real nightmare is the human tragedy that was and may still be pending until these issues are resolved.
What is also surprising is the scope of the recalls as they extend to include 2004 model year vehicles. This is a lot for one company to absorb over such a short period. It is clear that a flawed design can bring a company to it’s knees overnight. In the wake of this nightmare, it is also disappointing that Toyota has been less than forthcoming with their communication strategy.
Toyota Lessons Learned
A crucial lesson for Toyota and other companies is to learn to recognize when a problem is really a problem. Rather than dismissing a fault or failure as a remote possibility or “highly unlikely event”, the key to solving any problem is acknowledging that one exists. This may have been the greatest error of all in this case.
As consumers we may be too naïve to think that companies are operating with our best interests in mind and not necessarily putting the interests of their stakeholders first. To be more specific, there is a very fine line between managing solutions, managing risk, and managing a profitable business. Problems without resolutions or preventable measures are subject to risk management strategy and the price of many products on the market today include a company’s costs to manage risks and potential liabilities.
Responsiveness versus Excuses
Is it the investment or the lives that were lost that call for varying degrees of “investigation”, problem solving, and government intervention? The timeline of events leading to the recall for accelerator issues spans months and perhaps even years when the problem was first reported. What does it take before a company finally decides that an event has statistical significance?
The lesson that all companies can learn from this is that the value of human life cannot be measured or dismissed by a risk assessment or an extremely remote chance of recurrence. There is little comfort in statistics if you happen to be that one person in a million that has the problem. We are not suggesting that Toyota dismissed prior reports of problems; we are simply asking “out loud” if they could have had cause to act sooner.
Some media reports have suggested that Toyota grew too fast over the past few years. How would that have any impact on the design of the vehicle? Toyota design changes are typically perceived as enhancements and improvements over time. Yes, Toyota gained significant increases in market share as interest in hybrid vehicles grew with ever increasing gas prices. Yes, increased volumes place an unprecedented strain on resources throughout the supply chain and perhaps even more so for those suppliers that have been surviving on reduced staff and personnel. None of these are excuses for a failed design. This was not a manufacturing defect as we understand it.
Unfortunately for Toyota, this recall is not a nightmare they can just wake up from – it is a bitter reality. Although Toyota vows to improve quality, this needs to be demonstrated. These same words were uttered by Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe in 2006 as investigations were pending for the recall of over a million vehicles for a faulty steering component that was initially discovered in 2004. Akio Toyoda now finds himself making similar commitments again in 2010.
When we consider the number of vehicles produced, we also have to consider the effectiveness of the solution seemingly contrived over recent weeks or, for the benefit of the doubt, months.
How do we really know the proposed solution is effective? The reality is that we don’t. As with the discovery of the original defect, only time will tell. Despite all the testing performed to simulate “the real world”, it is crucial to understand that tests are only simulations – they are not real life. Even though a failure is predictable, it is not always preventable and just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
Restoring consumer confidence and trust will take some time and Toyota’s crisis management skills will certainly be challenged. The communication strategy to date has been less than admirable by some accounts, while others continue to praise Toyota’s product line and have re-affirmed their confidence in the company.
Owing to their own lean principles, we are hopeful that Toyota will continue to embrace problems as opportunities to learn and to strengthen the company and its products. Toyota is the last company we would expect to see with this number of problems on their hands at any one time.
Our disappointment with Toyota is the lapse between discovery and fix, and subsequently the lapse in communication as the recalls are officially made public. To this end, Toyota’s reputation may be waning.
In our first post on this topic, “Using Triz for Problem Solving – Introduction“, we provided a very basic introduction to TRIZ. In the spirit of TRIZ, it is not our intent to rewrite or redefine the TRIZ process when excellent information is already available. Our intent is to identify the few of the many excellent and exceptional resources that we have found.
What is TRIZ?
To learn more about TRIZ and it’s applications we suggest visiting the following web sites that present a tremendous amount of information on the development and application of TRIZ.
As you will have learned from reading the “What is TRIZ?” page from the link above, one of the tools of TRIZ is the Contradiction Matrix that consists of 40 elements. The TRIZ Contradiction Matrix is available as an Excel Spreadsheet through the following link:
We typically tend to avoid “labels” for the method we are using to solve a specific problem. Unlike a surgeon “requesting specific tools (scalpel)” while performing an operation, our strategy tends to be a blended “hybrid” approach to problem solving; TRIZ happens to be one of the more effective methods that we have learned to use over the past few years.
The acceptance of TRIZ may be attributed to the current struggles many companies experience simply attempting to complete an 8D or 5-Why. Of course, that would only be true of companies who are void of the Lean principles and methods – right? TRIZ also has a perceived complexity that does not lend itself to ready adaptation as a company-wide problem solving tool.
Unfortunately, for many companies, the discipline or the structure is simply not there to support effective problem solving efforts. Perhaps if more time was spent solving the real problems, they would have more time to solve problems not yet realized.
A famous quote from Albert Einstein, “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.“, applies to the discussion of problem solving and more so to the topic of TRIZ, The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving, developed by Genrich S. Altshuller.
TRIZ – Theory of Inventive Problem Solving
Genrich S. Altshuller developed TRIZ based on his search for a standard method to solve problems. At the very basic level, once a problem is identified the objective is to determine whether a similar problem has already existed elsewhere. If so, study the solution and determine whether it can be incorporated into the current solution being sought. Taken one step further, consider the possibility that a different perspective of the problem may also present a unique inventive solution.
It does not seem too far fetched that the problem to be solved has occurred elsewhere in a completely different context. The solution that is found may also be out of the context but the concept may lead to an innovative solution for the current problem at hand where one never before existed.
The application of TRIZ requires an open mind. We often bring our “tool box” of experience to the table and draw on those tools and our wealth of knowledge to create a solution. TRIZ is a tool that can be used to create completely new and unique solutions to a given problem. This doesn’t mean that we need to abandon our current technology and know-how; it simply means that there may be other options where the current know-how and / or technology may not apply or it may be applied in a manner that is quite different than it is today.
Identify the Real Problem to be Solved
Any problem solving method can only be successful if the true root cause is identified. Once found, a clear and concise problem statement must be formulated to assure that the solution developed and implemented indeed addresses the true root cause.
Searching for Solutions:
Once a problem has been identified, the next question is, “How do we solve it?” There are a number of techniques that can be used such as brain storming and idea mapping, however, one seldomly used technique is TRIZ: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving.
Every day we are challenged with a diverse range of problems from machine malfunctions to defective parts. The very nature of any company’s operations requires an immediate fix to restore operations to “normal”. Recognizing that a problem exists is not the same as understanding what the problem is and effectively solving the problem requires that we have identified the true root cause and not just the symptoms.
Many tools are readily available to even help us address these concerns or identify where opportunities exist to make improvements. Unfortunately, these tools seldom provide the solution to the problem. Too often we are trapped inside the box of current thinking, technologies, standards, methodologies, present knowledge, and even company policy. Our own levels of thinking and plausible solutions are influenced and limited by our current understanding and knowledge of the problem as well as our own experiences.
The Basis for Using TRIZ to Solve Problems:
In some cases, product or part designs themselves may be constrained as engineers and designers work to generate a design tailored to a specific, known, technology. Quality Function Deployment is one strategy that provides a platform to explore alternative design and process approaches before committing to a specific technology or process.
It is worth noting that, although product design is critical, processes and technologies used to manufacture the product itself are often overlooked and seldom are the process constraints and their affects ever considered. There are many examples where numerous hours are wasted attempting to develop tools using traditional technologies to produce parts that conform to the wishes of engineers and designers.
How do we actually go about solving problems where the technology or the design present constraints that prevent success? This is the basis for TRIZ: We have clearly identified the problem to be solved, now we need a solution to resolve it.
Although problems may have varying degrees of difficulty, the solutions for them can only fall into one of two overly simplified categories: Known or Unknown. While this classification may appear simple on the surface, consider the unknown solution. Is it truly unknown or is it only unknown to you.
Known: Surrogate process already proven and only requires adaptation for the current situtation. The “problem solver” has an awareness or experience related to the solution.
Unknown: Typically, solutions are often limited by the scope of experience of the person or person(s) attempting to solve the problem.
The problem solver is not aware of the solution’s existence (Personal)
The solution is outside the problem solver’s scope of experience, training, or field of expertise, but may exist within the company (Company)
The solution is not known within the company but is known within the industry (Industry)
A solution can be realized although it does not presently exist (Outside Industry).
Requires an inventive solution that goes beyond improving the existing condition and is not known to exist anywhere.
Although a solution may be found or developed internally, it may not necessarily be ideal. We recommend continual review of trade journals, going to trade shows, and networking not only with industry peers but outside your areas of expertise as well.
We will pursue the TRIZ methodology as both a learning and problem solving method. Often times the solution to a problem requires a different perspective to achieve an effective resolution.
Applying TRIZ in the real world:
TRIZ can be used to develop solutions in a wide range of applications. As Contingency Plans are developed, you may determine that a solution is required to address a problem or crisis that company has not yet experienced. As we have discussed, the information or solution to the pending “crisis” may already exist elsewhere. Similarly, improvements to Overall Equipment Efficiency may require solutions to be developed to address problems or opportunities that are inhibiting continued improvement.
We will continue to pursue the application of TRIZ in the real world and present a more detailed case study.
Note: We would also recommend and encourage you to visit http://www.mazur.net/triz/ for an indepth presentation and detailed discussion of TRIZ. This site provides greater detail and background that is presently beyond the application or scope of this series.
Contingency Planning For Lean Organizations – Part IV – Crisis Management
In a previous post we eluded that lean organizations are likely to be more susceptible to disruptions or adverse conditions and may even have a greater impact on the business. To some degree this may be true, however, in reality, Lean has positioned these organizations to be more agile and extremely responsive to crisis situations to mitigate losses.
True lean organizations have learned to manage change as normal course of operation. A crisis only presents a disruption of larger scale. Chapter 10 of Steven J. Spear’s book, “Chasing the Rabbit”, exemplifies how high velocity, or lean, organizations have managed to overcome significant crisis situations that would typically cripple most organizations.
Problem solving is intrinsic at all levels of a lean organization and, in the case of Toyota, problem solving skills extend beyond the walls of the organization itself. It is clear that an infrastructure of people having well developed problem solving skills is a key component to managing the unexpected. The events presented in this chapter demonstrate the agility that is present in a lean organization, namely Toyota in this case and it’s supplier base.
Training is a Contingency
Toyota has clearly been the leader in Lean manufacturing and even more so in developing problem solving skills at all levels of the organization company-wide. The primary reason for this is the investment that Toyota puts into the development of people and their problem solving skills at the onset of their employment with the company. The ability to see problems, correct them in real time, and share the results (company-wide) is a testament to the system and it’s effectiveness has been proven on many occassions.
Prevention, preparation, and training (which is also a form of prevention) are as much an integral part of contingency planning as are the actual steps that must be executed when a crisis situation occurs. Toyota has developed a rapid response reflex that is inherent in the organization’s infrastructure to rapidly regain it’s capabilities when a crisis strikes.
We highly recommend reading Steven J. Spear’s “Chasing the Rabbit” to learn and appreciate the four capabilities that distinguish “High Velocity” organizations. The key to lean is creating a cultural climate that is driven by the relentless pursuit of improvement and elimination of waste. Learning to recognize waste and correcting the condition as it occurs requires keen observation and sharp problem solving skills.
Creating a culture of this nature is an evolutionary process – not revolutionary. In many ways the simplicity of the four capabilities is it’s greatest ally. Instilling these principles and capabilities into the organization demands time and effort, but the results are well worth it. Lean was not intended to be complex and the principles demonstrated and exemplified in Chasing the Rabbit confirm this to be true. This is not to be construed as saying that the challenges are easy … but with the right team they are certainly easier.
Coincidentally, we are having a first hand experience with the Blue Screen of Death or BSOD with one of our laptops today. The completely unexpected critical system error that renders Windows completely helpless. If this isn’t on your list of IT concerns, it should be.
In our case the error appears to be video related – driver or card. Most IT specialists know how to deal with these types of errors but for the average user, the message that appears is enough to make you sweat. If the system can’t fix the error, you may very well end up staring at a Black Screen – just as we are.
How is it that we were still able to produce this POST? Well, we are currently executing our contingency plan and using another system that is operated independently. Most companies back up their data to prevent or minimize loss. Another concern that is often overlooked is accessibility to that back up data in the event the system goes down.
What have we learned?
We are not the first to experience this problem. We did a Google search using some brief terms such as “Computer Black Screen”, “Laptop Black Screen”, and we even Googled parts of the error message that appeared on the screen. The result? Thousands of people have experienced this same error.
The point of this post is to demonstrate that you do not have to re-invent the wheel to determine potential solutions or to discover problems that may occur. Quite likely, they may already have happened and solutions are already developed and available.
There are two probable solutions to our video issue:
Update the video device driver (Free)
Replace the video card (Cost $)
Hopefully, the first solution is the answer to our problem. Video cards are not sitting on our shelf and the downtime may be extended if we can’t find something locally.
It is noteworthy that we have not yet identified the root cause of this failure. We haven’t loaded any new software or experienced problems in recent history. This may be the topic for a future problem solving post.
Regardless of the outcome of our present dilemma, we have learned that it is a good idea to keep device drivers up to date. As a planned activity, this may prevent some of you from having to experience the BSOD as we have today.
The loss incurred for this event is more than just the cost to repair. This computer may be down for a few days. How much is the down time worth? Unless we play out the scenarios that may threaten or pose a risk to our business, we may never have the opportunity to prepare for the event until it actually happens.
Keep an open mind and use the resources available to you to help solve the problem. In some cases a simple Google search could confirm your concern in a matter of seconds.
Contingency Planning for Lean Operations – Part III
“Deaths spark huge crib recall” was the main headline of today’s Toronto Star (24-Nov-09). This recall was the result of 4 infant deaths and affects up to 2.1 million units sold. Click here to access the full article. This announcement has made headlines throughout North America and is certain to be featured on all of the major network news stations.
Managing a major product recall is likely one of the more significant events where contingency plans are fully executed and developed. As tragic or unfortunate as the events may be, it is imperative for a company to manage the recall event in professional and responsible manner. While it may seem difficult to prepare for an event that has not yet occurred, learning to anticipate the sequence of events to recovery and to script are necessary steps to developing an effective contingency plan.
What are the elements of an effective contingency plan?
We will be covering the elements of an effective contingency plan over the next few posts. Before we get too far into the process, it is important to recognize that one of the critical skills required as part of the contingency planning process is the ability to perform an effective risk assessment.
It is not our intent to cover all aspects regarding risk assessments and analysis as this would require a book in itself.
A newly released book, The Failure of Risk Management – Why It’s Broken and How to Fix It, by Douglas W. Hubbard (copyright 2009) and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., provides extensive insight and resources to perform effective Risk Management Assessments and Analysis. The reasons why some risk management methods fail or are susceptible to failure are also covered in detail.
As exemplified in the opening article, there is no real means to measure the net effect or impact of a recall campaign of this magnitude. Elements such as Consumer Confidence, Brand Loyalty, Loss of Life, or Warranty are difficult to value in tangible terms.
Unfortunately, there are too many examples of crisis events where the knowledge was available to rectify or fix the situation before any tragic event occurred. As heard in many workplaces, “Why is that nothing is done until something bad happens?”
An effective contingency planning is not only designed to manage tragic or crisis events, it should also aid to identify potential failure modes that can be captured and addressed before a product is ever released for mass production or to market. Consider the following two scenarios:
Scenario 1: (Highly unlikely …)
Jill: What if the part fails?
Jack: We’ll recall it.
Jill: How will we do that?
Jack: We have an excellent recall management process
What if the dialogue took a different turn as follows:
Scenario 2: (More likely …)
Jill: What if the part fails?
Jack: What could possibly go wrong? It’s perfect.
Jill: Engineering said it barely passed the tests.
Jack: Well, maybe we should take another look at the design.
Jill: Great, you know we can’t risk a recall.
Developing a Contingency Plan – The Process
1. Corporate Responsibilities – Charter
If contingency planning ever concerns an individual person in the company directly, it is the Chief Executive Officer or the president who are personally at risk of significant legal ramifications and also the greatest level of exposure.
This past year Maple Leaf Foods experienced a major Listeria outbreak at one of their food processing facilities. Contaminated product reached the market place resulting in illness and loss of life. A major recall was initiated and the company immediately initiated corrective actions. During this crisis, the CEO took personal responsibility for public relations, communicating the strategy, and ultimately overseeing the recovery process.
The CEO or President should be leading the charge for the development of contingency plans and to assure their effectiveness. To this end, it is also imperative that the team responsible for formulating the plan includes a cross-section of people from across the company.
The CEO or President will also want to assure that everyone is trained to respond to events that pertain their specific areas of responsibility.
2. Contingency Planning – Form a Team
As we mentioned in our previous posts, contingency planning is an enterprise-wide process. The collective intelligence of the team is greater than that of any team member.
You should consider the skill sets that may be required to support the team. Although we are not suggesting that you need to be an expert in probability theory or statistics, someone having exposure to these types of assessment tools or an outside consultant may be worth the effort.
It is not possible for one committee to prepare contingency plans for every area in the company. When forming teams, how the skills and levels of expertise required to support the team in one area may be vastly different for another area. For example, Product Engineering and Operations will have different failure modes to contend with.
To ensure the appropriate resources are available, we recommend that executive management or a steering committee are assigned to oversee the contingency planning and development process.
Based on some of the scenarios cited in this post, it would stand to reason that most CEO’, Presidents, and / or owners are primary stake holders in the Contingency Planning process.
Contingency Planning For Lean Operations – Part II
Putting together a contingency plan can be quite challenging when you consider all the things that could go wrong at any given point in time. Contingency plans should not only be restricted to “things gone wrong” and are not limited to operations or process specific events. All aspects of an operation are prone to risk. As such, contingency planning must be an enterprise wide activity.
Failing to understand and assess the risks that may impact your operation is a recipe for future failure. If you fail to plan then plan to fail. The same is true for contingency plans. Effective risk management and contingency planning are critical to minimize or eliminate the effects of failure.
Natural disasters (like we’ve never seen before) continue to plague us without prediction. Yet, we are able to respond immediately and effectively. If you get hurt or injured, someone is there to help you simply by dialing 911. Emergency units are ever present and available to respond.
Unfortunately the same is not necessarily true for business. The recent turn in the economy caused financial markets to tumble and decimated corporations on every scale. Millions of people are affected by the fallout. The government “loans” were not crafted after the event. Did contingency plans exist to even consider this level of change in the economy?
Although history may be the best predictor of future events, it is not exclusive or exhaustive to predicting unforeseen future events. Even if history did provide a glimpse of potential future failures, we may simply choose to ignore the probability of recurrence – this isn’t the first time the financial markets have crashed, yet we can’t seem to determine or understand what key indicators existed that could have prevented this current situation.
Certainly new variables are introduced as technologies continue to evolve and become more integral in our operations.
In Part I of this series we suggested that contingency plans should be prepared to address potential labour challenges and more specifically availability. Certainly, the recent concerns regarding the H1N1 virus have heightened attention with respect to labour shortages.
Inclement Weather – Immediate effects of Snow Storm, Hurricane, Heavy Rain, Tornado.
Other considerations include:
Delayed Effects (flooding)
Accident / Injury: Personal versus Workplace
Considerations to reduce or minimize impact to operations:
Early Return To Work
Illness (Personal / Family / Extended Family)
Sudden Premature Death
Parental Leave (Maternity Leave)
Bereavement – Immediate Family, Out of Country
Retirement / Attrition
Onsite vs Offsite
Meetings – Department
Vacation Allowance / Timing
New Hires – Zero Weeks
Senior Employees – Per “X” Years of Service
Layoff and Recall
Supply Chain Disruptions – Raw Material or Part Supply
Planned Shutdown / Start Up Events – Holidays
Leave of Absence – Short Term / Long Term
Loss of Utilities: Water, Electricity
Fire, Suspended Services
Equipment – Breakdown / Malfunction (Major)
Tooling – Breakdown / Malfunction (Major)
Skill Levels Required – Non-Skilled, Semi-Skilled, and Skilled Labour
Union – Strike
Shutdown (Reduced Volume)
Slow Down (Reduced Volume)
Reduced Work Week (4 vs. 5 days)
Extended Work Days (Daily Overtime)
Extended Work Week (Saturday)
There are likely more areas of concern that may impact your labour pool, however, this does serve as a starting point. Do all of the above elements require a contingency plan? Not necessarily. We still contend that it is good practice to document all potential concerns. It is easier to add a note to document the reason for exclusion from the contingency plan by stating:
The following elements were discussed during the preparation of this plan, however, specific contingency plans were not considered necessary at the time of review:
Training – Scheduled Activity
Culpable Absenteeism – Progressive Discipline Program
Add Elements to the List as applicable
This latter task may seem somewhat trivial, but consider who else may be reading the report. Defining the scope of the contingency plan and adding a list of exclusions supported with reason(s) clarifies any ommissions from the core plan, will minimize the time required for review, and eliminates any assumptions regarding unintended ommisions.
Our next post will address the elements to be considered when developing a contingency plan.
Customers are the reason we are in business and customer satisfaction is what keeps them coming back. It takes a tremendous effort to gain a new customer and only seconds to lose one. Service must be exemplary if we want to sustain and grow our customer base and ultimately our business.
Mission: Exceed Customer Expectations
Is it really possible to EXCEED customer expectations? How can you exceed customer expectations when the expectation is 100% Quality Products at the lowest possible cost, Delivered On Time – In Full?
Consider the fast food industry. Many popular Fast Food companies offer drive through service. The expectation is that we will get what we ordered and receive the correct change when we pay. This is the service rendered and expectations have been met (provided of course that the quality of the food is also upto our expectations).
Every customer expects to be treated like …
… a customer or at least a human being. It could be argued that employees are expected to be kind, courteous, and cheerful while serving the customer. These attributes of good customer service may also be clearly defined in the “customer service” clause of their respective employment standards or published in the “Who is OUR Customer” poster. Instead of doing it because it’s the right thing to do, good customer service is now a condition for continued employment.
Vending machines can provide similar services without the human touch. When Vending machines fail to deliver what we paid for they are slammed, cursed, tilted, shaken, and kicked. When people fail to deliver, we write letters, attempt to talk to management, or we simply don’t go back.
Mission: We Will Enhance Customer Expectations
Some employees are exemplary – courteous, kind (at a minimum they at least say thank you, have a nice day), and are very efficient. Some employees are on the opposite end of the spectrum – almost as though our presence is an inconvenience.
Do you ever feel like you are being served by “the hand”? For some of us, the first person (or hand) we see in the morning is the one at the drive through window. Can this person make or break your day? Likely not, but they can at least enhance the experience with a friendly “Good morning and have a nice day”.
What is the point of this post? The customer perceives VALUE based on the full service experience. The people in customer service can make or break the customer’s experience with your product or service. VALUE is worth more than simply meeting Cost Objectives and Performance Expectations. Value and Cost are not equal.
Someone may VALUE your opinion although they wouldn’t necessarily pay you for it. The expression “let me give you my 2 cents on this” comes to mind.
How do you enhance customer satisfaction?
Major food chains and retailers are constantly looking for customer feedback. You may even be enticed to complete the “How did we do today” survey by an offer to discount your next purchase.
10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction
Communicate. Communication with the customer is the key to enhancing customer satisfaction. Follow Up and Follow Through to assure and confirm expectations have been satisfied.
Be Confident. Customers like to deal with people who know what they are doing. We don’t want to hear, “This is my first time doing this so …”
Be Professional. The customer is always right – even when they are wrong.
Build Customer Confidence. Your performance and ability to meet the customers’ needs will re-assure them that they have made the right decision.
Build Value (Reputation). Be effective and perform efficiently: Everyone wants the best lawyer or the best doctor. “We have the best person on it.”
Ask the customer. Is there anything else we can do for you today? This suggests that you are able to do more if necessary. The customer may just say, “Not today, but may be next time.” At least you know they’ll may be back versus NEVER.
Don’t send out surveys. There are many ways to measure customer satisfaction without sending surveys. “Paying” someone to provide an opinion may even change it. “Will I still get a free lunch if I tell you what I’m really thinking?” Remember the Vending Machine example from above? The vending machine knows exactly how poor performance looks and feels.
Be THE Solution. We coined a phrase some time ago – “Thinking so you don’t have to.” Take away the problem and be the solution.
Thank You. Show your customers that you appreciate their business. It may be as easy as saying “Thank You for Your Business.”
Smile – Whether the customer can see you or not – SMILE. Studies have suggested that people know or can sense when other people are smiling. We can’t quote a source for this statement, however, smiling is also good for you.
How does this relate to LEAN? Poor customer service will kill any business. At that time it doesn’t matter how efficient or lean your operation is. Most lean operations “present” very well. The cleanliness and organization of the operation suggests a degree of sophistication and a real sense of “we know what we’re doing.” Unfortunately, the customer experience may not include tours of your operation.
Problem solving is a problem in itself for many companies and at times can be one of the most daunting tasks to undertake during the course of an otherwise regular work day.
For some, problems seldom occur while for others this may, unfortunately, be a daily activity. Since problem solving is not usually part of the typical daily agenda of “routine” activities, our ability to find the time and solve them efficiently and effectively is compromised.
For many, just finding time seems to be one of the greatest challenges and perhaps a problem to be solved in itself. Sweeping problems under the rug may be efficient but it is certainly not effective. (So … broom is not the solution we’re proposing).
Using IDEA Mapping Techniques can help you solve problems effectively and efficiently. IDEA Maps, Process Maps, and Mind Maps are variations on a theme. We may use the terms interchangeably in the discussion that follows.
While there are several different approaches and “forms” that can be used to manage the overall problem solving process, the two most critical steps that will determine the effectiveness of the solution are:
Define a Clear and Concise Problem Description / Statement
While the first step seems relatively simple, the second step requires a little more effort. There are at least two (2) root causes for most problems that stem from two simple questions:
These questions imply that defective product was made for a reason (process) and it was shipped to the customer undetected (system). In other words, the customer is not protected from receipt of defective product.
The root cause analysis process forms the basis for all subsequent problem solving activities, including verification, interim and long term corrective actions. A lot of time can be wasted simply because the real root causes were never identified.
Many different tools can be deployed during the Root Cause Analysis process including Ishikawa Diagrams (Fishbone Diagrams), 5 Why (discussed in a previous post), Fault Tree Analysis, Q&A (Question Board), and Brain Storming to name just a few.
Mind Mapping or Process Mapping is a technique that provides an unconstrained approach to the thinking process for multiple input and contribution streams. Maps can also be used to identify interactions or relationships to other elements.
Mind Mapping (Process Mapping)
The center of the map contains the problem statement. We then surround the problem statement with potential inputs or contributors to the problem. These statements in turn become the “center” of additional levels of inputs and contributors. In some respects, the process map can be very similar to a Bloom Diagram and certainly supports the logic found with fishbone diagrams.
The The draw back to “Mapping” is that most are usually developed on Whiteboards and not easily or readily translated into a software solution.
Software Solutions and Templates
While there are many spreadsheet based solutions, few provide an effective interface to support the use of mapping techniques. Even most fishbone diagrams developed in Excel are quirky and awkward at best.
While we typically do not endorse specific software solutions, however, FREEMIND is one software that we consider to be among the best of available solutions and can be downloaded free of charge. The download and installation process only requires a few minutes.
The developers of FREEMIND provide a clean, intuitive solution for creating and maintaining process or mind maps. While other commercial packages are available, FreeMind is more than capable of handling most problem solving challenges and quite simply is time and money well saved.
The FreeMind homepage provides a better description of the software and it’s capabilities than we could provide here. Our goal was to introduce “Mapping” as an effective and efficient tool that can be used in the problem solving process.
After spending some time with the software, you will quickly discover that there are many other opportunities where this software can serve you. We have a mind map that we use to manage weekly and daily reports, another for key metrics, and yet another for our business structure. The ability to use hyperlinks makes it an easy process to access external reports and resources .
The FreeMind main page provides an excellent overview and provides examples of their software in action. This is definitely worth looking into and may just save some time for real problem solving.
We are presently using FreeMind version 0.9.0 RC 6.
Copyright 2000-2009 Joerg Mueller, Daniel Polansky, Christian Foltin, Dimitry Polivaev, and others.
Click here to see a sample process map to achieve delivery of 100% on time – in full: Mapping with FreeMind. We have also uploaded two documents (one of the original map and a word document showing a pictorial of the mind maps we created) into our Free Downloads box. See the ORANGE box on the sidebar to get your copy.
If you have a copy of FreeMind, simply change the extension on our Delivery file from “.txt” to “.mm” Of course, don’t type the quotes. This is just a sample for example purposes only. Feel free to edit or modify these files in any manner you choose.
IDEA Mapping, Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc, Hoboken, New Jersey, Published simultaneously in Canada (ISBN-13: 978-0-471-78862-1, ISBN-10: 0-471-78862-7), 268 pages. The book includes a companion CD-ROM featuring a 21 day trial for Mindjet MindManager 6.