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Customer Service, Lean, Processes, Viewpoint!

Customer Service – it’s a people thing

In these tough economic times you’d think that businesses would be trying extra hard to keep existing customers and that customer-facing staff would be aware of their impact on business success.  How difficult can it be?

I needed to have my caravan serviced and ‘phoned up in what I thought was plenty of time.  I expected to be able to get it done in a matter of weeks, but actually faced an 8 week delay.  Being charitable, I thought if they were that busy, they must be good.  On the day I took the van in I asked how long it would be before they let me know it was ready.  Up to 2 weeks was the answer.  Why on earth would they need it that long and why did I have to take it at least 10 days before they intended to work on it?  Not very Lean, I thought!

Anyway, I left it and waited for the ‘phone call to say it was ready.  Needless to say, they never called so I had to chase them towards the end of the second week.  (I thought of “Failure Demand” and the “Cost of Quality” Model)

When I went to collect it we waited in the reception area for 5 minutes waiting to be acknowledged.  A member of staff was behind the service desk, putting price labels on products.  Obviously that was more important than serving to a customer.  Eventually a different member of staff arrived to deal with us.  She was at great pains to tell us how busy she was, how difficult it was because a colleague was off sick and how she’d not had any time for a lunch-break.

I paid them nearly £260 for the caravan’s service and left.  I shan’t be returning.  That business has probably now lost £2000-£3000 of lifetime value of service and accessories sales from me.  And, I won’t be buying my next caravan from them so that’s another £10k they’ll miss.

Jan Carlsson of SAS Airlines called them “Moments of Truth”; every point of interaction between a customer and your organisation is an opportunity to make or break a service relationship.  Staff need to understand the potential impact of each of those moments of truth.

I may be hyper-sensitive to poor processes and lousy service because of my day job as an improvement consultant, but on the upside, I’m confident there will continue to be work while businesses forget that People plus Process equals Performance.  It also reminded me that too many Lean implementations that I’ve come across (particularly in the public sector) have forgotten that it’s people who deliver services and if their attitude or skills are poor, no amount of lean processes will make a difference to customer satisfaction.

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