Category Archives: Customer Focus

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.

Value Stream Management at Schlitterbahn

My family and I had a nice day at Schlitterbahn waterpark a couple of weeks back.  It was a lot fun and the rides were great.  While waiting in line for each of the slides, I couldn’t help but think about the very poor value stream management for the rides.

For one set of three slides,  the line was split in two.  For two particular slides the line was to the right and for the third slide the line was on the left.  When you got to the top the lines then crossed each other causing a ton of confusion and a park employee trying to keep the lines separate and correct.  See the diagram below.

Schlitterbahn_Lines

Also, if one of the first few didn’t want to ride one of the two slides from the line on the right then that slide would sit idle for a few minutes until the riders on the other slide unclogged the line.  It was a waste of time and use of the one slide.

There was a second group of three slides at another part of the park.  At this group of slides, two of them needed mats to ride down and the third needed a tube to ride the slide.  They didn’t mark this line with two separate lines so people had to tell you there were two lines.  Also, the mats for two of the slides were not stored at the entrance to the slides but at the exit.  You had to fight people through the exit, get a mat, then walk back around to the entrance.  All the tubes were stored at the entrance for the one slide.  This caused over an hour wait for the one slide but only a 10 minute wait for the 2 slides with the mats.

The way the park handled the value streams for the slides caused unbalanced lines and confusion for anyone that had not been there before.  It was a great lesson in making things visual and easy to understand in order to make a better experience for the customer.

Use the Right Visual

Visual management and visualization is a concept that lean relies heavily on.  There are a lot of standard visuals like metric boards, kanban signals, 5S and value stream maps.

Visuals really help people understand the information.  Everyone sees the same visual and it starts a good conversation allowing people to gain high agreement.  The issue is all the visuals I listed are tools and as with any tool you need to understand when to use it.

To be effective with using visuals, you need to understand what information the group is trying to understand.  What is the purpose of the visual?  Who is the audience?  What do they need to learn from it?

Most of the time the standard visuals will be perfect.  You can use them and get everything you need.  That is why those tools are well known, because they are used all the time and work.  But sometimes, they won’t.

Don’t be afraid to make up a visual tool to present the right information in an easily digestible manner.

Here are a couple a colleague and I came up with for a recent event:

Type_of_Work_Done

This one shows the % of time people spent doing different tasks throughout the day.  It helped the group better understand who was doing what and for how long.

FreqReporting

This one shows the frequency of tasks.  Daily, Weekly or Monthly?  What was the task done on?  Who many times on that day?

In both cases, the different colored post-its represent different areas of the company doing the work.

As you can see, the standard visual tools would not have shown this information in a easy manner to understand.  We designed this for the group and it worked very well.

We can’t always rely on the tools we have and know in our toolbox.  Sometimes we have to think outside the toolbox.  It is important to understand what your customer/group is trying to accomplish and design the visual accordingly.  Don’t meet the needs of the tool.  Meet your group’s needs.

STK Restaurant Focuses on the Customer

Cosmopolitan_LogoA few weeks ago, I was in Las Vega, NV for a conference.  One night a colleague and I at the STK restaurant in the new Cosmopolitan Casino.  The food was phenomenal.  Just an incredible meal.

The meal is not the reason for writing about the restaurant though.  The service is excellent also.  But, the service wasn’t your traditional restaurant service.  It was choreographed to be efficient and provide the customer with incredible service.

Typical restaurant service, no matter how nice the restaurant, is to have one waitress/waiter and maybe someone different bring out your food.

Not at STK.  We had 2 waitresses and at least 3 servers.  That is a total of five people servicing us and the area we sat in.

There was NEVER any confusion about what was going on at our table and we were never asked the same questions twice.  In fact, everything ran so smoothly that we were almost done with our meal when I asked my colleague if she noticed the five different people serving us.

At one point, one waitress came up to our table and asked, “I know (waitress’ name) is getting you more drinks.  Is there anything else I can get you right now?”  They had communicated enough to know what one was doing for our table so as not to repeat it.  Keep in mind, they are doing this for a section of the restaurant.  Not just us.

As we finished our appetizer and had five minutes to chat, a server came over and asked if we were ready for our main course.  He did not ask if we were done with the appetizer.  He specifically asked if we were ready for our main course.  His focus was on what we, as the customer, wanted.  We replied, “yes.”  The server removed our appetizer plates and utensils.  Within 60 seconds, a second server was at our table setting the utensils for the main course.  Within 2 minutes of him leaving a third server brought our food out.  In 3 minutes our table was cleared, reset and food brought to us by 3 different people.

These are just a couple of examples of how the restaurant focused on the customer and serving their needs in a very efficient way.

The process guy in me asked the waitress at the end how they do it.  She said they have a plan and understand how long it takes for the food to be prepared.  They have a wall where the drink station is and communicate on an ongoing basis throughout the night where no one can see so it is seamless to the customer.

This was a great of example of Lean’s #1 focus…delivering value to the customer.  The seamless effort and great service along with the great food made it an incredible experience.

The Answer is Easy…Better Forecasting

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Have you ever sat in a meeting where the discussion is about the high (sometimes low) inventory levels?  Do you frequently hear the answer of, “Once we get our better forecasting tool in place our inventories will be better.”?

This is a strong sign the company has not fully embraced lean thinking.

A lean company would not even have a discussion where forecasting tools are the solution.  A lean company is closely connected to their customers.  The goal is to make one product when one product is bought by the customer.  I know this isn’t easy for all companies, but the discussion would be around how to move in this direction.  Not how a better forecast can be generated.

There is one thing I can guarantee about a forecast.  It is WRONG!

I have never heard anyone say, “Man, I nailed that forecast!  I hit it right on the nose!”

Don’t misunderstand me.  I do believe there is a use in looking forward and understand what is coming.  A company would like to understand if a peak or a valley of the product sales might be coming.  This can help set and adjust maximum kanban levels for that period of time.

A forecast is good to understand directionally where volumes are heading.  Forecasting is not a good basis for your entire inventory strategy.

It is a difficult mindset to change.  When you do and act on that new mindset, the dividends it pays are enormous.

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