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By Dave Goebel, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager

As a Lean Practitioner, I’ve spent considerable time working with clients applying Lean tools to improve processes within the company. We reduce batch sizes to improve flow. We enhance machine reliability to ensure that equipment is ready when needed. We improve housekeeping and organization to instill discipline, make the workplace safer and increase efficiency.

We do a pretty good job of ensuring that the organization can provide the customer with whatever they need, whenever they need it. But what about the difficulties of getting in the door to acquire the goods and/or services that we work so hard to provide? How difficult is it for your customers to do business with you? Have you made any effort to assess this key business process?

We use Value Stream Mapping to determine where to apply the Lean tools to achieve our production goals. The Value Stream Map provides a visual representation of the process from a 20,000-foot view to help us see the obstacles that limit flow and affect quality. But what about the obstacles our customers face in dealing with us? Is there a tool that can help us see these obstacles? I’m so glad that you asked!

We can modify the Value Stream Map to accommodate this need. By going through the typical steps that our customers go through to deal with us, we can use the map to determine how long the process takes, how many handoffs the customer must endure, and what percentage of the engagement might be considered as “value added” by the customer. 

As you’ll recall, value added steps are those that the customer is willing to pay for. Anything else is non-value added. By creating the map, we can establish a baseline of performance and then work to improve the customer’s experience by reducing the time and difficulty required.

We’ve all had bad experiences dealing with suppliers of goods and services. The most capable customer service representative may not be skilled enough to smooth the ruffled feathers of the customer that has just run the gauntlet of multiple handoffs and excessive time required to deal with your company. Don’t take this for granted. There is no value in creating the perfect production system if no one shows up to consume the goods that it produces. We don’t want our customers to have a bad or even mediocre experience in dealing with us.

To ensure that your customers have an outstanding experience start your analysis. Work with your staff, and with your customers if possible, to create the maps to continuously improve this critical business process.

Working with customers or their problems isn’t always the easiest job—but it’s part of the territory when you rely on them to put money in your pocket. Start off 2018 with a clean slate and consider making improving customer service your New Year’s resolution. It’s not too late! And we have your backs and can help.