Category Archives: Customer Focus

The Power of Direct Observation in Retail

All to often people make changes based on data without taking the time to observe what is really happening.  This can lead to decisions that are not in the best interest of the business.

Recently, in our retail shop the data showed that we had some product that was not selling.  If we would have gone strictly with the data, we would probably clearance out the product and not carry it anymore.  But, we believed the product was something that people truly wanted.

Instead, we observed people as they perused the shop.  What we saw was people weren’t even seeing the product with the way they were shopping the store.

We decided to re-merchandise the store and almost instantly, as in the next day, we had sales on the product that wasn’t selling.

Data didn’t tell us the problem, but it did point us in the direction of a problem.  That is were data is very helpful, but the power came in observation.  Observation helped us see what the problem truly was so we could take appropriate action.

Do you take the time to observe the problem?  Or do you just manage by data?

Open for Business

I have had a hard time keeping up with the blog this year for a very good reason.  Regular readers may know that my wife has had an online business selling handmade soaps and bath and body products that she makes.  Over the last 4 years revenue has continued to grow at an incredible rate.  So much so, that we out grew out house a year ago and have been searching for a space outside the house to make the products.

Everything finally fell into place.  On Saturday, July 5th, 2014; Crimson Hill Soapworks and Gift Market retail soap opened for business.

Grand Opening Collage

It took almost a year and a half to find a place, negotiate the build out and rent, get the work done to the space and then set up the retail space and the kitchen.  The opening went better than we could have hoped for and now we are fully open for business.

Are we using lean in the business?  You bet.  We aren’t perfect and we have a long way to go, but we have always applied the biggest tenant of lean from the start.  Focus on value for the customer.  We believe the customer sets the market price for the product and our profit is that price minus our cost without suffering quality.

We know our target market and that is who we aim to please.  Our products may not be for everyone but for our target market we want to drive a high value proposition.

Here’s to new adventures!

It’s About Knowing Your Audience

Decisions Don’t Start with Data.  This was a post found on the Harvard Business Review Blog.  This is another attempt to explain how marketers are the kings of the world telling us what we should buy and we are too stupid to know otherwise.

We buy goods and services because we believe the stories marketers build around them:  “A diamond is forever” (De Beers), “Real Beauty” (Dove), “Think different” (Apple), “Just do it” (Nike).

That was my favorite excerpt from the post.  Thanks marketers, because I wasn’t sure what running shoe I wanted but “Just Do It” has now made up my mind.

The point I got from the post was that people don’t make decisions based on data, it is based on emotions.

To influence human decision making, you have to get to the place where decisions are really made — in the unconscious mind, where emotions rule, and data is mostly absent. Yes, even the most savvy executives begin to make choices this way. They get an intent, or a desire, or a want in their unconscious minds, then decide to pursue it and act on that decision. Only after that do they become consciously aware of what they’ve decided and start to justify it with rational argument.

While I do believe this is true.  It does not mean it is right.  Just because executives do this does not mean we should succumb to their ridiculous decisions and not present the data.

I do believe we make decisions on data, whether it is consciously or subconsciously.

Apple may say “Think Different”, but if their product is crap and is breaking all the time a person wouldn’t buy it.

“A diamond is forever” doesn’t make me buy from DeBeers.  It is there customer service and quality.

There was some form of information that is driving the decision.

I do agree with the author that when presenting a group with a new and possible radical idea that a person should approach his audience in a way that will get their attention.

For some that may mean presenting straight data.  For others, presenting a story or a “what’s in it for me?” point of view and weaving the data in.

This isn’t about data and decision making.  It is about knowing your audience and adjusting your approach to help meet the audience see your point of view.

Apple Store Not Focused on Customer

I do like the Apple products.  I have found them to be easy to use and high quality.  I have the original iPad (although half my apps won’t update anymore) and I think the Apple music players are still the best on the market.

That being said, I think Apple is very limiting in it’s openness and they will do things their way at the cost of customers at times.  I use iTunes as an example.  It is very hard to buy music, books, movies, etc… on iTunes and then be able to use them on an Android device.

Recently, I had another experience that showed me Apple wants things their way and aren’t focused on the customer.  I bought an iPod Nano for my wife for her birthday.   I ordered it online so I could have it engraved and picked it up at a local Apple store which was the first time I had ever been in an Apple store.  My wife used it 3 times, did not drop it and the screen has completely popped off.

I decided I would take the 30 minute drive to the closest Apple store and get the iPod replaced.  I arrived at 2:30pm and was greeted by someone who then handed me off to someone else to here about my issue.  They were glad to exchange the iPod but there would be no engraving since they don’t do that in the store.  I wasn’t happy about that but the engraving was free and I was hoping to walk out with a new iPod so I was too worried about it.

I was then informed that I couldn’t exchange it until 6pm that evening.  Three and a half hours later!  My first question was “why?”.  I was told a technician had to do it and the earliest appointment for a technician was at 6pm.  Of course, I asked “why does a tech have to do it?”.  That is when I got my favorite response of all time, “Because it is a legal transaction and serial numbers needed to be written down.”

My jaw hit the floor as I asked how long it would take and the woman said, “Oh it will take less than 10 minutes.”

Now my eyes popped out of my head.  So, I was going to have to wait 3.5 hrs for a tech to do a less than 10 minute transaction.  A transaction that would have already been done by any worker in the store if I would have bought the iPod at Target or Walmart.

My first thought is that Apple does not respect their store employees because they don’t trust anyone to do a simple exchange transaction.  Really.  Think about it.  Think about some of the people that have done exchanges/returns for you at Walmart.  The process shouldn’t be that hard.

Secondly, here I am.  An upset customer because a barely used product 2 weeks old is completely busted and now I will have to wait 3.5 hours to get it exchanged.  Now I am doubly upset.

I did not have time to wait and took my iPod home.

A few days later, I took the iPod to the Apple store close to my place of work.  I went in without an appointment just to see what would happen.  I got a new iPod in minutes and was out the door.

I’m not sure if that was an Apple policy or a store policy causing the issue at the first store.  Either way, they weren’t focused on creating a good customer experience which can lead to lost sales and in my case my just do that in the future.

Blog Reader Survey: I want to hear about your needs from the blog

Recently, I have been participating in a series of conversations with a small group of other bloggers about how to improve the online lean learning community.

We thought it best to start with what you thought, so we’d like you to take a few minutes to answer a series of 10 questions to get us going.

As a thank you for your help, this link will take you to a zip file with some free content from Jeff Hajek, Chad Walters and myself.

Link to our survey

Meet Customer Expectations AND Have Operational Excellence

I am way behind in my blog reading.  When reading some of my backlog, I found this great post by Brad Power over at Harvard Business Review.

Why was it great?  Brad talked about how meeting the customer expectations and operational excellence are not opposites.  Business should be doing BOTH and the ones that do have great success.

What is more important to company success, a strong external focus on customer experiences or an internal focus on effective and efficient operations?

Of course, it’s a false dichotomy — you need both. I described in an earlier post how Tesco worked for years to improve its supply chain capabilities, then leveraged this value by using deeper customer knowledge to enrich customer experiences.

Brad uses two great examples.  One is L.L. Bean that provides goods to consumers.  The other is ThedaCare which provides medical services to people.  He shows how meeting customer expectations and having operational excellence can work in either industry.

Many hospitals began pursuing the “triple aim”: better patient experiences, consistent quality, and lower costs. Hospitals such as Virginia Mason and ThedaCare adopted process improvement systems from manufacturing (“Lean” and the “Toyota Production System”) to deliver increased consistency, reliability, and quality. While skeptics are right when they say, “Patients are not cars,” the reality is that medical care is, in fact, delivered through extraordinarily complex organizations, with thousands of interacting processes, much like a factory.

Most in the lean community are aware of the great work ThedaCare and Virginia Mason have been doing.  It is great to see it highlighted on the HBR Blog.

Something that the lean community has stressed for a very long time is focus on delivering value for the customer first and then determine how to deliver that value as efficiently as possible and with no waste.

There is so much written about lean that is wrong or misunderstood.  It is great to see a post discussing how companies can use lean properly to help them compete and win.

Should All Customer Feedback Be Transparent to Others?

Is all customer feedback accurate?  Should all customer feedback be displayed?

My first reaction was absolutely all feedback should be displayed.  This is great transparency and help drive improvement.  If you don’t want negative customer feedback then provide a good experience.

I now have changed my tune a bit.  I do believe that customer feedback should be transparent, even the negative.  What I don’t believe is that all feedback should be displayed because there is some of it that is flat out wrong.

It is one thing to have your business not provide a positive experience and actual events posted about that versus an experience that is just not the case.  This is easier to monitor and see in small businesses.

The ideal state is that no bad experiences happen and a customer never receives bad quality product.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  If a customer receives a product they are not happy with the provider should have a chance to correct the situation.

In recent months, I have seen where customers are posting negative comments on small businesses that are flat out lies.  Either talking about the business not working with them to correct a situation when the customer never even contacted the business to correct the situation or describing a defect that is not even physically possible with that product.

Understanding unsatisfied customers is a great thing to help improve your  business.  False information that can damage a business is just wrong.

So when using the customer reviews, you must be cautious with what you read.  Understand all the feedback and try to make an educated decision.  Heck.  Even contact the business and ask questions to help you feel more comfortable.

Harvard Business Review Talks about Listening to Customers

The number one tenet of Lean is listening to your customers.  The company should derive what is of value for the customers from the customers.

Let Your Customers Streamline Your Business, posted by Lisa Bodell, discusses this very topic in detail.

So rather than relying on internal perspectives alone, engage your customers in developing simplification ideas…

The blog talks about simplifying products and services to help retain customers and increase customer satisfaction.

This simplification isn’t necessarily “dumbing” down the product or service.  It is about eliminating the waste in the product/service.

The first part of the definition of waste is the customer is willing to pay for and finds value in the feature.  If they don’t find value then it is non-value added waste.  The only way to understand what the customer believes is of value is to engage the customer.

Lisa talks about five ways to engage the customer:

Listen to your critics. Does your organization ask for customers’ feedback about what it was like to do business with you? What about asking non-customers why they don’t do business with you?

Roast your products and services. Comedy Central gained attention from its famous Roasts, where a celebrity gets torn to shreds with hilarious insults doled out by the audience. Try out this practice on your company’s products or services.

Turn pains into gains. Think about actively asking your customers about their pain points when it comes to working with your organization and its products or services.

Figure out what your customers do all day. Think you know your target market? Not just their demographic, but what their life is actually like.

Learn from other industries. Sometimes businesspeople think their company has unique circumstances; that problem-solving strategies that have proven successful in other industries wouldn’t work for them. This could not be further from the truth.

While there is a lot of traditional business thinking that I completely disagree with on the HBR blog, this one is dead on.

The best way to increase adoption of your product/service and gain customer loyalty is to listen to the very customers that are you targeting.

Guest Post: A Lean Vacation

Today’s post is from Tony Ferraro, on behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (www.creativesafetysupply.com). Tony strives to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. Tony believes in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.

When we think of lean, most people’s minds go straight to the business sector of manufacturing. While lean has been incorporated particularly well in industrial settings, lean has also experienced quite a bit of success in regular, everyday endeavors, not to mention in travel as well. The concept of lean was alive and well during a recent vacation I took. My last vacation went especially smooth due to a few lean practices that have been put into place to save time, money, and people’s sanity while visiting unfamiliar places.

Lean Airport (MSP – Minneapolis, MN) – The first inklings of lean processes were evident right at the airport before I even embarked on the actual vacation. After I made my way through ticketing and security, I set out to find my gate. Once I located my gate, it only took a second or two to notice the abundance of technology just radiating around me. There I stood in a sea of mini iPad stations just ripe for the picking. To put this into perspective, there was basically a built-in iPad station for every seat in the gate area. Not only were these iPads free to use but their use was actually encouraged. Sitting down at a station, I soon realized that these iPads were equipped with a multitude of different functions from checking flight statuses all the way to ordering and paying for various food items or supplies. As I was navigating through the iPad, I noticed that a person next to me was being served a drink right at his seat that he had ordered via the iPad. This is truly an excellent example of how an airport has utilized technology to make traveling easier and more pleasant for the customer.

Lean Rental Car Experience – My next encounter with lean happened shortly after I arrived at my destination. I’ve always considered obtaining a rental car to be one of the most tedious and dreaded parts of many of my previous vacations, however this time it wasn’t. A couple of weeks before I was set to leave for vacation, I called the car rental company Hertz and became a “gold” member which was quick and easy, and not to mention free. Being a gold member opened a whole new door of perks. I didn’t have to wait in any lines or deal with any sort of messy paperwork. Instead, I simply stepped off the shuttle at the rental car location, looked up at an electronic board to identify my name and stall number and simply walked to that parking stall. Once I arrived at my car, the trunk was open and the keys were in the ignition. Needless to say, I was thrilled with this efficient service and it took less than 10 minutes from start to finish and I was out on the highway enjoying the beginnings of my vacation. By signing up for the “gold” membership not only did I have an easier and faster experience, but I did not require any further help from Hertz employees which in turn helped to streamline the experience for them as well.

Lean Parking Ramp – I bet you think I’m going to say the parking ramp was lean because the entrance and exits were completely electronic and required no parking assistant and while this is true, it goes quite a bit deeper. The parking ramp I utilized was equipped with a fairly new technology known as “Park Assist.” Ok, I’m just going to say it, I love park assist. Any large and busy parking ramp could make their customers much happier with the help of parking technology. Park Assist features little green or red lights which are illuminated on the ceiling directly above the path where cars drive. If a parking spot is open the light will illuminate green, but if the spot is taken it will illuminate red. This type of technology increases more effective parking but also enhances safety. Instead of drivers constantly trying to look side to side while driving looking for the next open spot, all the driver needs to do is look for an illuminated green light and pull into the corresponding parking spot. Wow, this was impressive. Parking ramps can be pretty dangerous as there always seems to be people bobbing in and out between parked cars. This technology allows drivers to keep a greater focus on driving safely, but also helps them to find parking spots quicker.

The implementation of lean into daily life and travel has led to some monumental improvements which have helped to make once dreaded tasks much more palatable, and maybe even actually enjoyable.

Agile Brings Flexibility to Software Development

Lean thinking is about creating flexibility in the manufacturing process in order to deliver the value that customer wants at that time.

In agile, this is also true.   The beauty of using agile to develop software is the work can be prioritized on a daily or even more frequent basis.  As the development team completes a requirement and it moves to the “complete” pile, the product owner can determine which of the remaining requirements is the most important to complete next.  The product owner is closely linked with the customer of the software so they are the voice speaking directly for the customer.

If new requirements come up during development, no problem.  Add that requirement to the back log on the kanban board.  The next time it is time to pull a new requirement the product owner can prioritize the new story at the top or not.

This creates a lot of flexibility in the development process that a waterfall process does not.  Usually, with a waterfall development process all the requirements have to be determined up front and then frozen because adding any after that can cause issues.  Then the customer doesn’t see anything until the development is completely done.  The agile process allows to release pieces of functionality as it is ready.

This increased flexibility allows the team to deliver more value sooner to the customer, creating a happy customer.    Which is what lean is about.  Customer first.

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