Lean mean service machine

Work wise we’ve been thinking about a few things recently regarding the transfer of the ever popular Lean methodology to the service industry. This philosophy suggests a pared-down approach to an organisation’s systems and processes, introducing efficiencies such as geographical proximity of process (moving things closer together) standardisation, eliminating repetition and loop-backs, regular tempo, workload balancing, complexity segregation and finally, the communication of performance results.

Now, this all seems a bit clinical to me. We’re in the business of creating an exceptional customer experience. This seems to produce an efficient customer experience, but are they the same thing? Consider another Lean objective in the workplace, 5S Visual Management. The principal here is very noble – back to basics. The aim is to produce a workplace that is organised, clear of clutter and is focussed on delivering cost reductions, elimination of waste and errors, standardised and inspires pride in the working environment. Great. But what sort of interactions will this encourage? Robotic, teutonic, monotone ruthlessly efficient customer contact that provides nothing but the task required in as few steps as possible. Whilst this may be ok for some transactions, other requiring more care (e.g. an insurance claim) will require an element of care and interaction. I’m all for making the athlete run harder, faster and for longer – but don’t strip them of their humility, their passion, their desire and their personality. Think of it like the barmaid that never talks to you but serves a pint in 1 minute flat or the undertaker that dispatches your relative to the crematorium with only the perfunctory conversations of where, how and when?

Contact centres where we focus on efficiency measures such as talk time, referral time, abandonment rate, call volume etc. etc. become terrible places to work – like battery hen farms and veal crates. The customers hate it – they know they’re the umpteenth call that person’s had that morning and they’ll get service to match, the advisors hate it – they get penalised for taking time and making sure the customer is fully satisfied at their pace, and the managers hate it – they’re chasing an ever-distant horizon as morale worsens and performance drops. Now, I’m not suggesting that playschool is the answer either. These are nothing more than giant 'Big Brother'-style glasshouses out on ring-roads populated with 500 18-30s all in neon chairs, jeans, t-shirts and having foam parties when they make a sale … I’m thinking more of civilised populations in British towns and cities that are proud to work somewhere where the customer is the focus of their attention and the company understand that everything that surrounds them is there to support the staff and their customer. The organisations that get this right are few and far between…

Which leaves us with efficiency again. Does this work on the web? Do people want an interactive experience when they’re browsing? If so, do they want one when they’re shopping, banking or tracking down some IT support? The same can be said of television – some people thought efficient, pared-down news was the thing we’re all craving: cue 60 Seconds on BBC3 or Five’s news updates … the televisual equivalent of an Aero bar … there’s something to it, but not very much. And finally, to take you back to earlier debates … I bet if you asked the man on the street the following questions:

1. Would you like a news show on TV that was just 60 seconds but contained all the day’s headlines including sports, entertainment and weather?
2. Would you like your insurance company to process your policy in one call, without having to explain anything?
3. Would you like your pint served in your local every time under a minute and at perfect temperature?
We’d end up with news in 60 seconds, a robotic barman and a battery hen administering our car insurance. Progress eh?

No comments: