At a time when American business should be rallying around itself to manage quality, speed and complexity in order to overcome the challenges of our economy (mortgage meltdown, cost of oil and food, and sagging consumer confidence), the service dimension of business appears to be reticent to improve. It’s not unlike getting a poor performance appraisal from one’s boss and making a decision NOT to improve measurably. Our economy is giving us low scores and we need to look deep inside for the motivation to behave differently. Sub-standard services can no longer be tolerated at a time when each and every customer, each and every sale and each and every order represent the difference between life and death for business interests.
What to do?
Lean and Six Sigma, integrated properly and applied with a sense of urgency can go a long way to reduce waste, improve quality and reduce complexity – all of which recognize the importance of service and satisfied customer needs. This is true in manufacturing as well as in all areas related to service. Even the manufacturing sector has many service related areas that can stand to improve. Human resources, finance, marketing and sales, customer service, support, research and development, and IT to name a few.
- To the degree that speed, quality and complexity are not defined, measured, analyzed, improved and controlled, opportunities for quality improvement are lost.
- To the degree that transitions, events, triggers, decisions and rules are not modified to improve efficiency and eliminate waste as defined by the critical needs of the customer, opportunities for savings are lost.
- To the degree that quality and efficiency improvements do not reduce complexity, opportunities for value-creation are lost.
Who’s in Charge Here?
How is that we can shop retail outlets, visit eateries, seek healthcare, and ask for customer support and not receive service that is of the highest quality, efficiency and simplicity in this day and age? I often ask myself: “Where is this person’s manager?” and “How does this enterprise hope to survive an economic downturn and global competition?”
Lean and Clean – A Strategic Priority
I think the answer is one of strategic priority at the level of leadership. Workflow and business process projects are too often not directly tied to enterprise strategy. Consequently, there is a belief that improvement in service – be it marketing, sales, customer support or human resources – are not deemed to have an immediate impact on ROI and NPV by virtue of the delay most leaders believe is involved in manifesting improvements.
Such is the case when organizational bureaucracy and a lack of expertise conspire to produce improvement initiatives with 12 and 18 month time lines. American business is pressed to identify opportunities for improvement in speed, quality and simplicity in short time frames. Transform and defrag now.
Circles of Excellence with the Mind-Set (Sense of Urgency) of a SWAT Team
The remedy is essential and absolutely urgent: enable staff and managers to quickly identify waste, poor quality (as defined by the customer) and unwarranted complexity. Bring the expertise inside the walls of your organization if you have to. Give people simple tools. Dedicate your attention to velocity, quality control, simplification. With the right kind of visibility (workflow and business process models as well as key performance indicators in service dimensions of your business), issues are relatively easy to spot and the solutions are self-evident. The red flags are all around us and the solutions are just as evident.
Lastly, what is most ironic, poor customer service, needs to become intolerable. When customers and their disposable income are scarce, every service sector organization should declare a “zero tolerance” policy with respect to lousy customer engagement. Anything short of gold-standard service should be met with immediate performance improvement plans. Surviving and thriving in a recession is a matter of leadership, decision-making and focus on what really matters. Now more than ever, speed, quality, simplicity and satisfied customers matter.