How Can you Think About a Solution if you Can’t See the Problem?
Worse still, how can you improve a service and user experience if you don’t know how to read the information? How can you embrace your frontline staff to help your overall business service experience grow into something relevant and meaningful?
Now more than ever there are tools and processes that can help us work creatively and as a collective to understand the problem(s) at hand. Using today’s immersive and collaborative tools we can discover new opportunities to bring value to business through cost savings, sustainable product lifecycle, energy reduction, and ultimately creativity and innovation. Many organizations are already onboard with the idea that collaborative thinking is integral to the creative thinking process. But at the same time, businesses are faced with the monumental task of grappling with more data than they know how to manage. All too often, they’re convinced that more data is better when in fact quality and relevance of data should place higher than sheer volume.
Using People to Manage Information Overload
In the business world, where data and feedback reigns supreme, customer engagement has taken on an entirely new meaning. Let’s visualize the collaborative problem solving process in the most basic of terms: picture a sea of Post-its and whiteboards as a connect-the-dots puzzle of potential solutions and variables to the problem at hand. Now add a group of stakeholders working to organize those disparate pieces of information into the optimal solution in an efficient way. What a mess.
Data has become the de facto Post-it Note and with that comes the challenge of how to take the data and the tools that exist and leverage them to evolve the service experience into something relevant and meaningful to both the customer and the business.
Improving a service experience today is about allowing your organization to adapt and respond to real-time data and audience feedback. Today, businesses have the ability to capture data and feedback and respond within minutes or hours versus the weeks or months it used to take. However, with this capability comes complexity — complexity in finding consistency of brand, variation in message, and ultimately business value and ROI. The challenge lies in finding ways to synthesize and present data in a meaningful way that is easy to digest so that it can aid organizations to act (not just react) strategically.
Kaizen: A Philosophy for a Better Service Experience
This isn’t the first time we’ve witnessed a monumental shift in participatory thinking. More than 50 years ago a man named Taiichi Ohno was inspired visiting American self-serve supermarkets. He developed the Toyota Production System (TPS) or Toyota Management System (TMS) – later coined “Lean Manufacturing” in the US. This system was built on the Kaizen philosophy, which is about making “continuous and incremental improvements”. Kaizen helped pave the way for Toyota to become one of the most consistently profitable automobile companies in the world.
One of the more amazing outcomes of this process was the way it allowed management and workers to quickly identify a problem, notify others of the issue, and actually fix the problem without having to go through lengthy approval processes. Toyota recognized the need for frontline personnel to deal with unpredictable outcomes and change the current workflows in order to bring efficiency back into production lines. That meant informing workers of the new Kaizen-based system and in turn, empowering them with the process to allow them to make decisions and effect change in real time.
“Why not make the work easier and more interesting so that people do not have to sweat? The Toyota style is not to create results by working hard. It is a system that says there is no limit to people’s creativity. People don’t go to Toyota to ‘work’ they go there to ‘think’” – Taichi Ohno
Ways to Begin Improving your Service Experience
In the world of Interaction Design and User Experience Design (UXD) the same principles can be applied to the improvement of a service delivery. But first, business leaders need to be asking themselves certain questions:
- Are we allowing our people to participate?
- Are they allowed to reflect back to the business what they have heard or perceived in their day-to-day communications with customers/processes?
- Do we have tools that can aggregate, analyze and visualize data in a meaningful way?
- Can we develop quantitative and qualitative processes that work to our advantage?
- Can we create performance-based relationships based on the data collected?
- How can we add more value through participation?
- How can these methods help reduce waste and find efficiencies?
Over the last few years many cloud-based tools have surfaced using the Kaizen thinking methods. These tools help groups collaborate more effectively towards solutions and understanding. (e.g. Flow Kaizen)
Amazon has been using a Kaizen thinking process for many years to collaboratively evolve the efficiencies of their service experience and to increase cost savings in their delivery of services. Recently they’ve introduced a process that also involves service sustainability and is focused on reducing environmental impact while remaining profitable. Here’s what came out of that process:
- In the U.S. they reduced fuel consumption by reconfiguring their trucks to fit 20% more containers.
- In Wales, they introduced larger skylights and motion sensors to more effectively light their factory.
- In Japan, they created a visual guide that shows employees how to power down the conveyor belts when not in use.
- In China, they reengineered their warehousing process to ensure their packaging was fully recycled.
All of these efforts, though implemented on a local scale, are monumental at the global level if you consider the costs and savings to the business.
Trust in your People
These examples prove that allowing stakeholders within the organization to make decisions helps organizations to adapt quickly and survive. But doing this requires a certain amount of trust in your frontline.
So if in doubt, think about this: Toyota became one of the most successful businesses in the world because they figured out how to respond to real-time situations. With the availability of data, feedback and analytics capabilities, the collaboration process has taken on infinitely greater dimensions. You can improve your business by rethinking the way you do things as an organization, trust in your frontline people and adapt as you see change happening, rather than getting caught up in trying to predict outcomes that may or may not occur.
As in the Post-it example, it’s just a matter of getting the right information in the right order to unearth relevant patterns, read the signs and use that information to transform your business. In order to make positive change and business improvements we need to move from static representations of business to a more dynamic, two–way conversation with our audiences and employees and ultimately build better service experiences.
“If you are going to do Kaizen continuously… you’ve got to assume that things are a mess. Too many people just assume that things are all right the way they are. Aren’t you guys convinced that the way you’re doing things is the right way? That’s no way to get anything done. Kaizen is about changing the way things are. If you assume that things are all right the way they are, you can’t do kaizen. So change something!”