Almost everyone, in every organization, has heard this or a similar statement at some point. In customer driven environments, we must ensure that hierarchical approaches do not waste individual talents and let unproductive activities drain our energy. We must create a customer service culture that builds trust and eliminates the fear of failure so that everyone can use their unique knowledge and talents. If we can help the organization to do this, we can make a decisive difference.
Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary Processes
How we change our organization or department to a more customer focused style can be evolutionary and allow us to painlessly set direction, allocate responsibilities, and establish reasonable timelines to achieve objectives. The problem is that the evolutionary approach may not be fast or comprehensive enough to stay ahead of the curve in a rapidly evolving, high stakes world where the time horizon is short.
When faced with market-driven urgency, revolutionary change in the customer centered approach may be required to keep the organization competitive. In situations where timing is critical to success, and organizations must become more efficient and responsive, revolutionary change may be necessary. When choosing between evolutionary and revolutionary action, use a balanced and pragmatic approach.
General Electric (GE) pioneered a process known as “Work-Out.” They began with the premise that, those closest to the work know it best. When the ideas of various associates, irrespective of their functions and job titles, are solicited and turned immediately into action, an unstoppable wave of creativity, energy, and productivity is unleashed throughout the organization. At GE, Work-Out “Town Meetings” gave the corporation access to the unlimited resource of imagination and energy of its talented employees. The Work-Out program was a way to reduce bureaucracy and give every associate the opportunity to influence and improve GE’s day-to-day operations.
Now that you are aware of the “Work-Out” process, you can implement a similar process to improve your organization’s processes to deliver improved customer service, efficiency, effectiveness and greater profits. You should have a facilitator during this process. The most effective facilitators have had training and experience and are able to be objective during the process. This process can be conducted with large and small organizations to solve large and small issues. Although the process is structured, it is a very rational process.
Active listening is important during the exchange of ideas and suggestions. The purpose of active listening is to empathize with the speaker and draw out the information in a supportive and helpful way. We must then analyze that information to separate fact from emotion and guide the exchange towards the desired objective. Keep an open mind so that new information can be accepted.
Identifying the Customer Requirements
Successful continuous process improvements focus on customer needs. It is often thought that the customers only want to receive his or her product or a service and move on to other issues. Certainly this is the customer’s primary need, but they have some hidden needs that are equally important.
To begin your continuous effort, you must always begin with some variation of this fundamental question: “What do we need to do to better satisfy our internal or external customer needs?” This is the first step in uncovering true customer needs and improving your processes to meet those expectations. To answer that question, gather information from your customers and determine how to improve your processes.
Gathering information about customer needs does not always require a lengthy survey or long interviews. Usually, you learn or discover what you need to know by asking the customer what they expect to receive from you or your organization and what gaps are there between what they require and what is provided? When there is a gap between what the customer needs and what you do to respond to that need, there is an opportunity to improve your processes to be more responsive.
In addition to interviewing your customers, you can also review any research data on previous efforts to provide more satisfactory service and review existing measurement systems for applicable data. You can also investigate how other people within and outside your organization responded to changes in customer needs. Once you have collected available data about your customers’ requirements, you can begin to examine your work processes for opportunities to make improvements.
Identifying Improvement Opportunities
The key to improving a process to meet your customers’ needs more effectively and efficiently is to eliminate steps that do not add value to the product or service. Those steps don’t need to be major events. Big improvements in customer satisfaction often come with small, consistent improvements to work processes.
A process is merely a combination of people, equipment, materials, and methods. Any work process is a series of steps or tasks that use input such as raw materials, supplies, or information. This results in the output of a product or service that can be measured in terms of quality, quantity, and time, resources or material usage. A process can be repeated. If the tasks are not repeatable, it is not a process. When you begin to examine process to determine how it can be improved, list each step in the process and match it with a criterion.
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