Process improvement professionals often have a transient relationship with the customer. I should clarify that, as of course they go to great lengths to satisfy their customer, the problem is of course that this customer is often an internal one rather than an external one.
During his keynote speech, Steve Towers asked the audience to raise their hand if they interacted regularly with customers. Maybe half a dozen did. I wonder how many managers as a whole fall into this camp? When was the last time you engaged with a customer?
I’m not talking via an artificial environment such as a focus group here, I’m talking about talking to customers as they engage with your organisation. I suspect the answer is equally poor, which is mad isn’t it?
The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.Sam Walton
Management by Walking Around has been a popular concept for the best part of 30 years now, and whilst many managers may do the rounds internally (not enough of them I might add), a tiny number walk around externally. It’s a cliche to say that walking a mile in someones shoes allows you insight into their world, but in terms of delivering exceptional customer service it does help to get out of your ivory tower.
For process improvement professionals of course such aversion is unforgiveable as pull systems are a fundamental part of the Toyota Production System that underpins lean. In a pure pull system you don’t produce something until there’s demand for it, so you are responding directly to what the customer wants.
So there’s really no excuse for process improvement professionals to not take a customer-centric approach to their work. That shouldn’t let the rest of us off the hook though, especially as the second major take-away from the event was around Big Data.
Forrester Research’s Connie Moore spoke about how Big Data can enable companies to deliver the customer-centricity we all crave when we’re the customer ourselves. If the data is analysed correctly it provides managers with the insight to provide each customer with a service tailored specifically for them. Of course that’s a big if for there is concern that a talent shortage could strangle the Big Data revolution before it’s even gathered steam.
If you’d like to find out a bit more on all of this, then I can recommend this whitepaper by IBM. It looks at how you can use cloud technologies to drive innovation and continuous improvement.
Whilst Big Data can provide you with an incredible breadth and depth to your investigations, a very worthwhile first step is to simply get out from behind your desk and talk to some customers. Heck, if you can’t do that, hop onto your organisations social media and you’re sure to meet plenty of them there.
Just don’t say you’re too busy, for you should never be too busy to meet a customer.