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Article by Mark Gregory:

So engage the employee and it makes a difference to your customer which makes a difference to your profit. Not rocket science I hear you say! Agreed. So why don’t you do it then or worse why do you pretend you do it?

A service culture at its heart must be an engaging culture; a culture whereby every internal customer must be engaged as a whole person. This means equipping our people managers and leaders to think and behave differently and use the lean tools as customer service tools. When I help organisations embed a lean philosophy my advice is generally to think of the lean tools as an engagement vehicle and the improvement interventions as an opportunity to engender greater levels of employee engagement first and improve the business secondly. When we do this we obtain more of the whole person. The more we tap the whole person, the individual, the more engagement we obtain. Back to the Sears proposition.

So what about employee engagement mapping instead of value stream mapping or visual engagement instead of visual factory or leader prevention training instead of accident prevention training. I also often hear those who work in the field of lean philosophy talk about empowering the staff. Just imagine how easy that would be if we focus on the person before the process.

For those of you that are still not quite there and are thinking, “that’s not the real world the answer is simple, if you are not careful the internal customer is only doing what you want on the outside and my experience suggests what’s on the inside eventually appears on the outside. I am not saying this is easy as those who have tried leadership and engagement will tell you it is relentless and unforgiving, but we should be familiar with this as that’s what customer loyalty is like.

As Alan Jones, Chairman Emeritus of Toyota UK said, “Wherever you work, your job as a manager is to make your people the very best they can be – and usually they don’t know just how good they could be. It’s individuals that make the difference. For Toyota, this approach is not based on altruism – though it is based on a profound respect for its members. It is predicated on the firm belief that the most valuable asset the company has is its people, and that enabling them to have an intellectual and emotional relationship with their work, as well as a financial stake in the success of the company, is the key to continuous product and productivity improvement from the shop floor to the boardroom. Toyota’s people are their competitive advantage.”

So who is the real customer really?

Click here to read part 1..

Article by Mark Gregory:

As I go about my daily business, like most people, I am continually exposed to varying levels of customer service from fantastic to (as Buzz would say) awful and beyond! Unlike most of the people around me though, I wonder whether the proprietors of this service really think and/or attempt to understand who the real customer is and what are their needs?

There are a couple of key enablers we talk a lot about in the lean philosophy: firstly, the value chain – the chain of activities and interactions that produces the output, be it a product or a service; secondly, the customers within the value chain – which is simply the next person in the chain or the receiver of the output of the previous activity. As those more conversant with lean philosophy will know, there are then a whole host of tools one can use to optimise this value chain and what the customer receives. There is of course as with all good philosophies, a higher purpose at play here as well, a why are we doing this at all question to be answered and principles to guide us to that higher purpose, but on the whole, in its simplest terms, it is about optimising customer value and experience.

So when I consider this service excellence, customer experience, customer loyalty or whichever other term you prefer conundrum, I just see the external customer as the end of a long value chain. While it is important to expend concerted effort to recognise all of my needs, wants and desires in an attempt to satisfy them and get me to buy, it strikes me that this is often out of balance with the effort put into satisfying the only customer truly in our circle of control the internal one, our employees.

It strikes me that the poor service I often receive is just the outward manifestation of the lack of engagement effort the employer has expended on the internal customer (the employee). In other words, the service outcome is merely a by-product of the engagement proposition, just as high levels of quality and productivity are, within the lean philosophy.

The evidence is there but we may just be looking in the wrong place. For example, in 1998 the Harvard Business Review published an article entitled “The Employee – Customer Profit Chain at Sears.” This article (worth a read by the way) talks about the turnaround and transformation undertaken over a three year period at Sears Roebuck Company, an American Department store chain. As with all good turnaround stories, it has the CEO and the senior leadership team climbing the torturous mountain of culture change to place the flag of victory at the peak. What however is more interesting, is the approach they took in climbing the mountain. They started with creating a compelling place to work or employee engagement. The second interesting point here is that they put just as much, if not more energy into this, as they did into the other key area of focus, the external customer. The result was that they found a direct correlation: a 5 unit increase in employee attitude drove a 1.3 unit increase in customer impression, which in turn drove a 0.5% increase in revenue growth.

So if the internal customer is the key to service excellence and customer loyalty how does lean help?

To be continued…. Click here for part 2