Are You Being Served? Process Excellence in Services

At the heart of superior performance in organizations, whether service-based, transactional, manufacturing, assembly or processing is the idea of consistent, highly value-added, responsive, and capable processes. But the arena of services — whether a hospital, retail chain, restaurant, hotel, or theme park – presents an even more challenging shift in paradigm than for processes focused on the production of things (as difficult as that is). While high-performance processes in all sectors share common characteristics such as value-added flow with little or no defects, service-based processes have the customer as the medium of the process. Literally, rather than a car flowing through an assembly line, service situations have a customer or client experiencing the flow of service as a seamless system of processes with the customer at the heart.

Or rather, we ought to experience that. Instead, most customers in a service situation find themselves having to self-navigate their way through a series of frustrating hand-offs from one person or department to another. The customer is not at the heart of the organization but is subordinate to the missions and tasks of specialists and functions to which the customer must adapt and in many cases, please. Information the customer gives to one person or department is not passed on, flowed, to the next, but is asked for again and again by each successive employee. Often, it is up to the customer to try and integrate the service themselves by telling each department of an organization what the other functions have said or to go through their own research and legwork to manage the process.

In their book, Lean Solutions, Womack and Jones summarized what we, as service customers, want, need, and yearn for:

Solve my problem completely;

Don’t waste my time;

Provide exactly what I need, when I need it, and where it is needed;

Reduce the number of problems I need to solve and decisions I need to make.

Consequently, to achieve superior performance in a customer service-intensive environment, organizations face many challenges:

  • Mission: ensuring the organization is actually engaged in the mission of delivering a superior customer/client/patient experience that solves their problem completely, providing what they need (not just what they might want) when and where they need it. Most organizations are not oriented in any way to this kind of mission, but rather a mission focused on delivering or providing the product or service they owe to a customer. Note the subtle but important distinction between service delivery and service experience.
  • Values: what is important to us? Typically a values fit-gap analysis reveals significant gaps and clashes between the current value-system of the organization and the requisite set of values of a consistent high-performance service experience organization such as what gets priority for time, how decisions are made, and what gets praised in an organization.
  • Vision: what we want to be, where we are today and consequently the transformation journey we, the organization, must undertake to bridge that gap. In a high performance organization, the vision is so well-engrained and consistent with superior customer satisfaction that it is less a vision than simply the way of the organization. But in the case of transformation, we find that the vision is best thought of as sober, concrete expression of the compelling need for change and the things we will need to change in the name of a more inspirational, engaging, and attracting future state.
  • Strategy: One of the common confusions is between two equally important but distinctly different strategies. One is the current and, if substantially different, go-forward operational strategy, the game plan of actions to run and grow the organization. This might involve acquisitions, partnerships, alliances or other major actions that seek to improve the prospects and results of the organization. Second is the transformation strategy, the game plan of actions, resources, and other elements that constitute the way the organization will seek to trigger and sustain the change in order to become a superior customer experience organization.
  • Translating the strategy to execution: There are several tools one can use; I prefer Kaplan and Norton’s strategy map concept to structure the thinking of the organization’s leadership and consists of 4 perspectives. A typical trap many organizations fall into is to look at one or two of the factors but not all of them as a whole system:
    • A Learning and Growth perspective that encompasses Human, Information, and Organizational Capital;
    • An internal Process perspective on family of processes that must work as a system to ensure the superior flow of service experience to customers;
    • The Customer perspective; truly understanding what the customers need and value from their eyes;
    • The Financial perspective, the productivity and/or growth goals of the stakeholders/shareholders.
  • Translation into metrics, targets, initiatives and personal objectives that are aligned with superior customer service experience but also with the change process required to make the shift from current state to future state.
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