Lessons for Lean Services from Lean Manufacturing


    Just when many organizations have standardized their business processes, particularly those that are pure voice or voice/data hybrid processes into a streamlined set of distinct process steps, with carefully orchestrated handoffs, best practices seem to be going exactly the opposite way!

    Many organizations streamlined their disorganized and ad-hoc processes into a disciplined ways of handling them as suggested by frameworks like ITIL (Information Technoilogy Infrastructure Library). Incoming calls for support or queries are taken first by someone who just verifies whether you can be supported, takes down a description of the problem and passes it on to the next level of support. If they cannot handle it they pass it on to the next level and so on. This increased the efficiency and utilization of people in the call center and made sure that calls did not fall through the cracks somewhere. A disciplined, systematic way of doing things.

    Except it annoyed the heck out of customers!

    Along comes First Call Resolution and the pressure to address the consumer’s problem by the first person that takes the call. Customers prefer this the best, understandably. Who wants to be passed on from person to person after being on hold a hundred times, only to start with a  description of the problem over and over again? That’s what reality seemed like to the customer!

    Now companies are rushing to empower their agents to do the right thing on the phone or on other media like chat, when they interact with the customers. And do what it takes to satisfy the customer and get their loyalty in return.

    The parallels between Assembly line manufacturing as practiced by automakers for decades and the new Lean manufacturing as practiced by Toyota and other Japanese automakers and what is happening in services is amazing. In the olden days Industrial Engineers were the Gods of Manufacturing and the lowly workers just tightened the nuts on the bolts all day long and went home! Just like the streamlined assembly line approach to providing services.

    New manufacturing did away with "experts" in manufacturing. People who did the work were the experts. Any improvement ideas came from them since they were the most qualified people to come up with the right ideas and implement them also. They stopped the assembly line if something is not going smoothly and you did not start the line back till the root cause is identified and fixed.

    Services delivered the same way cannot go wrong! Over the longer term, calls are eliminated rather than optimized!

    Amazing, the kinds of lessons services can learn from new manufacturing, particularly Lean methods as practiced these days!

    To deal with future we have to deal with possibilities. Analysis will only tell us what is. – Edward de Bono