Process Improvement: It’s Really A Service Issue

Justin Clark, MBA

Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Most people associate the phrase “process improvement” with the regular charge to reduce costs without sacrificing too much quality. It seems to be synonymous with things like budget review and fiscal year. I am here to challenge you to think about process improvement in an entirely different light. I want you to consider that process improvement might first be a customer service related endeavor. This may be unconventional and you might even disagree, but I hope that at the very least I will be successful in persuading you to see how the customer is intricately woven into any process improvement opportunity.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

All customers have three basic criteria by which the judge almost any service. You do. I do. We all do. In some circumstances we may value these three equally and in others we may choose to weight them according to our perceptions of our needs. The three questions we ask every time we have a customer service experience are as follows:

Was it good?
Was it fast?
Was it cheap?

In other words, we consider quality, convenience, and cost. What if we evaluated our areas of responsibility and asked if we could enhance our customer’s experiences by improving one of these factors? Wouldn’t we better position ourselves to capture their business?  Of course, we are bound by various resources constraints like cost and time. Regardless, broadening your understanding of process improvement to include this line of thinking will help you find opportunities that should help grow your business and bottom line.

How can you do it? 

  1. Think like a customer. Take your employee glasses off and see what your customers see. Some people can do this by intentionally evaluating their areas of responsibility. Others use resources such as feedback surveys, focus groups, and mystery shoppers.
  2. Know what your competition is doing. What choices does your customer have? Why should they choose you? Where do you have work to do to catch up? If you can’t answer these questions then you need to do some research. While it is important to know your processes inside and out, you have to be aware of what your competition is doing.
  3. Do something. Once you understand your customers experience and what options they have, craft a strategy that will help retain your current customers as well as attract new ones. Often this means taking calculated chances to improve your processes. The temptation is to assume that because it appears to be working that your process cant be improved. In the pursuit of perfection, there is almost always room for improvement.

What are some additional strategies you have used to shift the focus of performance improvement away from a budgetary conversation and into a service discussion?  Log on and join the conversation at www.somc.org/blog.  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

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