Tag: Customer Service

Lean – A Race Against Time

The printer Benjamin Franklin contributed grea...
Image via Wikipedia


If “Time is Money”, is it reasonable for us to consider that “Wasting Time is Wasting Money?”

Whether we are discussing customer service, health care, government services, or manufacturing – waste is often identified as one of the top concerns that must be addressed and ultimately eliminated.  As is often the case in most organizations, the next step is an attempt to define waste.  Although they are not the focus of our discussion, the commonly known “wastes” from a lean perspective are:

  • Over-Production
  • Inventory
  • Correction (Non-Conformance  – Quality)
  • Transportation
  • Motion
  • Over Processing
  • Waiting

Resourcefulness is another form of waste often added to this list and occurs when resources and talent are not utilized to work at their full potential.

Where did the Time go?

As a lean practitioner, I acknowledge these wastes exist but there must have been an underlying element of concern or thinking process that caused this list to be created.  In other words, lists don’t just appear, they are created for a reason.

As I pondered this list, I realized that the greatest single common denominator of each waste is TIME.  Again, from a lean perspective, TIME is the basis for measuring throughput.  As such, our Lean Journey is ultimately founded on our ability to reduce or eliminate the TIME required to produce a part or deliver a service.

As a non-renewable resource, we must learn to value time and use it effectively.  Again, as we review the list above, we can see that lost time is an inherent trait of each waste.  We can also see how this list extends beyond the realm of manufacturing.  TIME is a constant constraint that is indeed a challenge to manage even in our personal lives.

To efficiently do what is not required is NOT effective.

I consider Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) to be a key metric in manufacturing.  While it is possible to consider the three factors Availability, Performance, and Quality separately, in the context of this discussion, we can see that any impediment to throughput can be directly correlated to lost time.

To extend the concept in a more general sense, our objective is to provide our customers with a quality product or service in the shortest amount of time.  Waste is any impediment or roadblock that prevents us from achieving this objective.

Indirect Waste and Effectiveness

Indirect Waste (time) is best explained by way of example.  How many times have we heard, “I don’t understand this – we just finished training everybody!”  It is common for companies to provide training to teach new skills.  Similarly, when a problem occurs, one of the – too often used – corrective actions is “re-trained employee(s).”  Unfortunately, the results are not always what we expect.

Many companies seem content to use class test scores and instructor feedback to determine whether the training was effective while little consideration is given to developing skill competency.  If an employee cannot execute or demonstrate the skill successfully or competently, how effective was the training?  Recognizing that a learning curve may exist, some companies are inclined to dismiss incompetence but only for a limited time.

The company must discern between employee capability and quality of training.  In other words, the company must ensure that the quality of training provided will adequately prepare the employee to successfully perform the required tasks.  Either the training and / or method of delivery are not effective or the employee may simply lack the capability.  Let me qualify this last statement by saying that “playing the piano is not for everyone.”

Training effectiveness can only be measured by an employee’s demonstrated ability to apply their new knowledge or skill.

Time – Friend or Foe?

Lean tools are without doubt very useful and play a significant role in helping to carve out a lean strategy.  However, I am concerned that the tendency of many lean initiatives is to follow a prescribed strategy or formula.  This approach essentially creates a new box that in time will not be much different from the one we are trying to break out of.

An extension of this is the classification of wastes.  As identified here, the true waste is time.  Efforts to reduce or eliminate the time element from any process will undoubtedly result in cost savings.  However, the immediate focus of lean is not on cost reduction alone.

Global sourcing has assured that “TIME” can be purchased at reduced rates from low-cost labour countries.  While this practice may result in a “cost savings”, it does nothing to promote the cause of lean – we have simply outsourced our inefficiencies at reduced prices.  Numerous Canadian and US facilities continue to be closed as workers witness the exodus of jobs to foreign countries due to lower labor and operating costs. Electrolux closes facility in Webster City, Iowa.

I don’t know the origins of multi-tasking, but the very mention of it suggests that someone had “time on their hands.”  So remember, when you’re put on hold, driving to work, stuck in traffic, stopped at a light, sorting parts, waiting in line, sitting in the doctors office, watching commercials, or just looking for lost or misplaced items – your time is running out.

Is time a friend or foe?  I suggest the answer is both, as long as we spend it wisely (spelled effectively).  Be effective, be Lean, and stop wasting time.

Let the race begin:  Ready … Set … Go …

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

Twitter:  @Versalytics

1 Way to Exceed Expectations

Always a Line at Tim Horton's
Image by caribb via Flickr

Although I’m still not sure that it’s possible to exceed customer expectations, something happened last night that may have given me a slightly different perspective on this matter.  In November of 2009 I published an article titled, “10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction“, on the very premise that the best we could do was enhance the customer’s experience based on a very short and loose definition of what customers expect:

  1. 100% Quality Products or Service
  2. On Time Delivery – In Full
  3. Lowest Possible Cost

In the manufacturing sector, quality is a given, early or late is never good, and, because of the first two, price becomes the discerning factor for future business.  So, aside from making these experiences more satisfying, how can these expectations possibly be exceeded?

The Unexpected Difference

When I pulled up to the drive through window at our local Tim Hortons, I recognized the person at the window who was about to serve me with my order.  When the window opened, we exchanged our usual greetings but this time was different – nothing really significant, but certainly different.  After taking my money, there was an ever so slight pause where, for a very brief moment in time, I felt as though I was being “studied” much in the same way a passing glance suddenly turns to more of a stare when someone looks familiar to you.

Then the unexpected happened.  When I was handed my coffee, I was also given a Quickpay Timcard that read:  “Thank you for being our customer – Compliments of your local Tim Hortons”.  I was surprised by this token of appreciation especially considering that the 2011 “Roll up the rim to win” contest just started again.  What added to the experience is that the exchange was genuine and sincere.

Although contingency planning teaches us to expect the unexpected, I must admit that this time my guard was down.  Although it could be argued that this is yet another marketing ploy to ensure my continued loyalty, the best I could do was express my gratitude in return.

Surprise Me

In the business world, I don’t like surprises – usually because they’re not the enjoyable kind.  In this particular case, however, Tim Hortons managed to surprise me in a positive way.  As a customer, I actually appreciated the recognition.  The monetary value of the card isn’t that significant, but, as they say, “It’s the thought that counts.”  That is something that exceeded my expectations.

I recognize that “gifting” is frowned upon and in some companies may even cost you your job if accepted.  This is  especially true when it is linked to the award of new business.  But somehow, this time and in this context, it seemed appropriate.  Of course, the free advertising that Tim Hortons is now receiving can only help to offset the small investment they made through their act of kindness.

Are there other ways that we can exceed customer expectations without gifting?  I’m sure that new features, technologies, and innovative ideas that improve a customer’s competitive position or enhances their product or service can also exceed customer expectations and may even offer the same element of surprise for the unexpected.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics
Twitter:  @Versalytics

5 New Paradigms for a Socially Engaged Company

I have discussed how company culture can significantly influence results.  Follow this link, 5 New Paradigms for a Socially Engaged Company, and prepare to be amazed.  How do these paradigms compare with your own?

Engaging your teams can be as significant as any new investment in technology.  How much of an improvement would we have to make in Overall Equipment Effectiveness or Labour Efficiency to yield the same results?

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!

Vergence Analytics

twitter:  @Versalytics

10 Ways to Enhance Customer Satisfaction

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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 …”
  3. Be Professional.  The customer is always right – even when they are wrong.
  4. Build Customer Confidence.  Your performance and ability to meet the customers’ needs will re-assure them that they have made the right decision.
  5. Build Value (Reputation).  Be effective and perform efficiently:  Everyone  wants the best lawyer or the best doctor.  “We have the best person on it.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Thank You.  Show your customers that you appreciate their business.  It may be as easy as saying “Thank You for Your Business.”
  10. 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.

Until Next Time – STAY Lean!