Invest in Now

drops-of-water

Also known as “Take care of the customer in front of you, not their future selves.” 

I’m minded of this, specifically regarding how organisations can manipulate the perceived balance of power between them and their customers when applying refunds.

Mistreatment

I’ve noticed that it’s not necessarily specific companies, but the industry sectors they operate in.

There are a few laggard industries whose code of conduct allows them to refund a customer in future for something that they’ve failed at in the present (or in the past if it’s taken a while to bring the issue to light). 

Two of the major industries that operate in this manner

  1. Water industry. If there’s a restriction on potable water, such as a hosepipe ban, then the company is obliged to refund the customer an amount in the next billing cycle. 
  2. Train operators. If a train is late or cancelled, then they are obliged to reduce the amount of the season ticket for the next season.

Balance

Both are in the favour of the organisation, not the customer.

  1. It allows the organisation to profit from the use of the money until they need to pay it out. But the customer has the issues now.
  2. The customer may move on. They may be moving house and job, and so not need another season ticket for trains or have to pay water bills for the same property. Therefore the organisation may not have a duty to that future customer and so may not have to make the refund. 

Customer Experience

From the point of being fair to the customer, you’d expect the organisation to pay the refund at the point of the complaint (or at the point of knowing about the issue if that happens first).

While that may seem soft-hearted – after all businesses are there to return increased dividends to shareholders – it’s becoming better business sense. This is increasing to the point that it’s becoming a key differentiator.

However, notice that both of the industries mentioned above were once state-owned, then privatised but they are at different stages of industry deregulation. On the surface, both industries are being made by their respective regulators to become more customer-focussed. However water companies have adopted the concepts with more vigour; train companies on the other hand are taking a backward step, if not many steps backward.

Water Industry

 

Leak

The water industry has focussed on the Service Improvement Mechanism for a number of years. With the switch to a wider-ranging C-MEX score, we will hopefully see more responsive reactions to poor service.

Let’s put this into perspective, no matter how much of a refund I’m given in a future period, I’ll still score a water company poorly for delaying that refund. Sort the issue now and how much should be charged for the service (or lack of service) during that issue. How many other customers will think similarly?

Fixing an issue includes more than the technical fix, commonly we’d expect to see:

  • the temporary fix (to stop it getting worse),
  • the long-term fix (to stop it happening again),
  • the clean-up and tidy-up,
  • restorative works to put property back as it was and
  • the financial element.

If the organisation leaves any of those to a later date, then they’ve failed in that interaction. Admittedly, this becomes more complex if there is no financially viable long-term fix. There will always be cases that are not fully resolvable, perhaps requiring an investment of £10m+. That’s not the same as the Ford Pinto calculation; it’s quality of life not life and death we’re discussing here. On average, we’d expect a comparable percentage of unresolvable issues across all the water companies. Or rather, there’s little reason to believe that any one region would suffer a greater percentage of issues which can’t be resolved than any other region. 

The company that resolves the issues completely for the customer, from the customer perspective, is the one that will lead in that C-MEX score. If one water company starts to treat customers more fairly (even if they do not have to), then I’d expect to see their rating increase. It’s not the only angle, but a committed approach to treating customers fairly and competently has to be a good thing. If one company does take this approach, would it cause other companies to follow suit just to keep up? Imagine the world if treating customers fairly became the norm rather than the exception.

Rail

 

rails

Which brings me onto the rail network. UK rail operators appear to be taking an alternative approach; that of distancing themselves from the customer. Witness the recent news over the last few months regarding Northern Rail and Southern Rail. In both cases, issues from significant under-investment in the operation (crucially the number of drivers and conductors plus planning in sufficient training time) have had massive impact on the lives of commuters, resulting in some resigning from their jobs that they can no longer get to. For a more up-to-date perspective, look for #Northernfail on Twitter. The change in timetable exacerbated the issue; it didn’t cause it.

Northern Rail’s response to date has been decidedly squirmy. I don’t think I’ve ever described an action that way before, especially in any official report, but it’s an appropriate description for what the public are seeing. There is no proper apology, refunding is problematic, there doesn’t appear to be a solution in place that will ease the lives of customers. Instead, the organisation is applying cryptic rules in its refund schemes, most likely to keep refunds to a minimum by filtering out those that don’t meet its exact criteria. While that may be appropriate for the company and complies with the regulator, it does not make for a good customer experience. Northern Rail are working from a monopoly position. It’s not fully a monopoly, but there are very few if any other options. In many cases for customers, there is no alternative transport option, and definitely no other rail option.

Summary

Once again, I find myself asking who in the company has forgotten the customer. Or if the company believes that someone else is the customer. For instance, I’ve seen some B2B and similar companies that only focus on their immediate customer, i.e. the company that is buying from them. This comes at the expense of the end customer or consumer. 

Regardless of the industry, there will be a person who lives in a neighbourhood whether a city, district, village or wherever. They have a family, friends, occupation, hobbies, etc. That is your end-customer, even if you only deliver part of the service. What is your organisation doing to improve their customer experience? And are you doing it at the right time?

 

 

Treat your customer as valuable

Hospital
Treating your customer as valuable could be the first step to understanding what your customer values.
 
Shopping Carts
Shopping Carts

I went shopping in my local supermarket. It was eventful for the number of things that went wrong for me, all of which could have been prevented with some foresight and some real-world gemba.

 
It was early in the morning so I had chance to see the store operate with fewer customers. This also meant that I could move around the store quicker than usual. So from that perceptive, the shopping expedition was a success….at least until the checkout process.
 
For a large supermarket, there were no checkout assistants at that time in the morning. Instead, there was a bay of 4 self-service checkouts. That’s not too bad, I find them very useful when I have a handful of items. However on this occasion I had a full trolley and had no choice but to use the self-service checkouts. The first issue with this is that there is very little space to put items once you’ve scanned them. To keep scanning more items, I had to swap out each bag once I’d filled it. Every time I did this, the machine told me off. This meant that a checkout supervisor had to come across and tell the machine to ignore the missing bag. That dance occurred several times since the trolley was full.
 
I valued the speed and efficiency of being able to pick my items at my convenience. I didn’t mind whether I scanned the items or whether they were scanned by a checkout assistant. However I did mind the lack of planning for catering for shoppers who had more than a basket. And I minded being reprimanded by a machine for solving a problem that it was creating. I’m confident enough that I have zero issues with being reprimanded by a machine; it’s just a set of algorithms encoded by another human. In this case, a human that didn’t foresee the machine being attached to a tiny tray and being used by a shopper with a trolley. But I did mind the rigmarole that it created.
 
Discharge
Discharge

I had a brief stay in hospital a few years ago. Everything ran smoothly until I was discharged. From my perspective, I was still a patient regardless of the official status. I was in hospital, feeling lousy and weak after 5 days of little to no food or drink and due to continue with medication for a further 7 days. Nothing major, but enough that I was allocated a hospital bed (if you’re familiar with the UK’s NHS, that’s a good measure of a condition). I was discharged in the morning, roughly 9:30am and was due the following dose of medication at 10:30am. Unfortunately, medication after discharge isn’t dispensed by the ward staff, it comes from the hospital pharmacist. I spent 3 hours waiting for the hospital discharge to deliver my medication to the ward so I could go home. That meant I couldn’t arrange transport since I didn’t know when I could leave. More importantly to me, the medication I was due at 10:30am didn’t arrive until the afternoon. During this time I occupied a hospital bed, although I think I would have been moved to a day room had the ward been full to capacity.

 
 
 

Analysis

At that time, NHS hospitals in the UK had a 28 day return policy, in that they were fined for patients who were readmitted for the same condition within 28 days of discharge. That goes some way to ensuring that discharges are medically appropriate. Unfortunately it doesn’t go to check that the discharge process itself is appropriate. It’s still focussed on the condition that the person was originally admitted for, rather than the smoothness of the discharge process. It’s as if the patient is no longer a patient once medically discharged, assuming they will be safe in their environment (e.g. home). The actual situation is somewhat more intricate than that but the effect on the discharged patient isn’t any different. To them, they’re still in hospital, still expecting the rest of the hospital services to be working to achieve the full discharge (not just the medical discharge).
 
Similarly, for the supermarket. The main experience was great but marred by the part of the process where I actually get the goods I pay for.
 
In neither of those cases did I feel fully valued. In the case of the hospital, I can forgive easily. However, from the perspective of efficiency, there’s a lot to be said for getting me out of the hospital as quickly as possible, so as to free up resources for others who need them. The more time I spent in the hospital following the medical discharge, the more failure demand I created (simply by being there, not that I created it on purpose). And the more risk of something happening while I was on the hospital grounds.
 
This leads onto the peak-end rule where we attribute a large portion of our memory of the experience based on the peak and the end of the customer journey. So no matter how good a service you provide to your customers, they’ll remember how it ends.
 

Your Customers’ Problems Are Your Problems

bathroom

I’m writing a new book, this will be my second*. I’d written a couple of chapters last week, one of which focussed on how organisations leave problems for the customers to resolve, but that they don’t think of it that way. In one chapter, I used the example of “Warning. Hot Water.” signs, stipulating that the organisation has decided that rather than fix the problem, they’ll leave it to the customer to work around the problem. Every day, every day they use the tap. When viewed like that, putting a sign up doesn’t really resolve the problem.

I was in a hotel at the weekend and I tend to think of hotels as having solved this particular problem a long time ago; it’s usually workplace offices that still have these signs. But enter the bathroom and it’s plastered with “Warning. Hot Water” signs. And it was seriously hot, close to scalding. For IHG, you’ll find this out when I review the hotel. It was just one of a list of issues. I travel a lot. I’m pretty flexible and lenient as far as hotels go. If there’s a problem, as long as it’s resolved, I’m happy. By that, I meant that I recognise that there are faults in any system, in any organisation and that’s ok by me. But if it’s a systemic failure, then I’m concerned. This hotel had a number of repeated failings. A quick look at trip advisor shows the issues are not isolated.

At what point does someone responsible for fixing a problem decide that a sign is enough? That the customer can have the problem? Did they work through a customer journey? Did they wonder what it would be like to be tired after travelling, hungry, thirsty, maybe a headache? Maybe not speaking English as a first language. Maybe not being used to English norms regarding taps (plumbing doesn’t seem to be standardised across the world)?

Why would we expect a foreign guest and customer to be familiar with the quirks our hotel’s plumbing?

Signs such as this protect the organisation. They inform the customer, but they do not remove the problem.

I go into more detail in the new book. If you’d like to be informed, subscribe to the newsletter.

 

*If you’re curious why you haven’t seen the first book, it’s because I haven’t released it yet. The first draft is ready and I’m taking a short break from it to gain some distance before returning for the final push.

Failure in public sector – The Reprise

support-2355701_1280

I read Vim‘s article on What Does Failure Mean for Public Services  and I wanted to respond. I wanted to build upon Vim’s thoughts from my own perspective. I’ve developed that perspective over a couple of decades working across front-line teams and supporting teams, transforming workforces across public and private sector. This results in me having to balance many different levels of change (including success and failure) ranging from a conversation discussing funding allocations over £100m, followed by a conversation discussing attitudes to change, shortly followed by another discussing the approach for very local decision-making such as choosing the ideal location for a printer.

It’s mostly the same

We should see failure in the public sector in the same way that we see failure in the private sector with the one, not so subtle difference; the public sector is there to make a difference to the population. Pick a public sector service, if it’s not making a positive difference to the population, then it’s failing. I can’t think of a simpler definition. Every other private sector metric (perhaps with some tailoring in the case of profit metric) should apply to the public sector.

Unfortunately, the more we pick it apart, the more difficult it becomes to define failure. And most of that difficulty comes from the difference between providing for the population and providing for an individual.

Most of the failure is seen at the individual level, but not extrapolated quickly enough to realise that the service is failing. Most of the success is also seen at the individual level but we don’t really celebrate these as much unless they’re specifically health-related. For many services, we only notice when they go wrong. For instance, how many local authorities celebrated 0 people in the queue for social housing back in the 70s when it was feasible? Perversely, we may be able to achieve 0 in the queue now, but that could be because eligibility thresholds have risen. It’s not the same service or the same level of service anymore.

At one extreme, we see the death of an individual, we see one person homeless. Then we see multiple people homeless due to congregating together, but it takes longer for social consciousness to become more aware of the deaths of increasing number of individuals. All of this could be failure.

Criminal or Incompetent?

“He’s either criminally incompetent or incompetently criminal”

It’s a phrase I heard years ago from a charitable organisation that raised no money after holding an event where lots of people attended and money changed hands but no profit was made to turn into funds for the charity. We’re talking small money here, margins were very tight, but even so, no-one quite knew what happened.

That’s partly how I think about the systemic failure within public services although I’ll broaden the definition of criminal to include unethical, immoral or against the mass of service users you’re meant to be serving. When a service is failing, I wonder where the decision was that caused it to fail. Was someone competently unethical or incompetently ethical? Competently immoral or incompetently moral? Bear in mind that leaves out the options of competently ethical (where they’ve chosen to improve services and made it happen) or incompetently unethical (where they tried to restrict services but enacted it poorly).

Was it an implementation or management decision by the team manager to assign a lesser-skilled worker to the case where a more experienced one was required? Implying incompetence on the manager’s part.

Or was it because there wasn’t enough money to pay for more experienced workers, resulting in only newly-qualified workers being available? Implying a deliberate decision to underfund on the funder’s part.

Did the funder underfund because they’d allocated more funds to other services? implying an incompetence on the funder’s part.

Or did that funder not have enough money to distribute to the services because of a reduction in centralised funds, e.g. from central government? Again, implying a conscious decision to underfund numerous services.

Expectations

Public services are funded to meet the demand that’s expected to present to that service, e.g. through referrals from other services and bodies, through walk-in or through outreach (where the team goes out educating the population on the service available). It’s always a balance between who is at most need of the service, the funds available, the skills and experience of the team available and the time available to respond.

Considering public services have a duty to provide for the population, if a service cannot meet the demands placed upon it, who is criminal and who is competent/incompetent?

The manager should understand the costs of the service and the variation based on demand being presented. At the point that it becomes underfunded, it’s time to shout. For many services, that point was passed many years ago. Underfunding results in some people not being served or the quality of service (in terms of what can be provided, e.g. the duration of engagement such as number of CBT sessions) is reduced. That then has a further human impact, e.g. people being homeless or in debt which both can lead to homeless and in debt, which leads to decreasing health, which leads to inability to work (but possibly not recognised as inability). Even one day of no service provision can escalate quickly, exacerbated by the climate of mistrust and unbalanced power between those services with funds and those people applying for funds. That one day can result in missing benefits, resulting in deteriorating health (have to choose between rent, paying heating/lighting bills, feeding children and self, getting to a job interview, clothing, etc). So underfunding a service so that it can’t provide to all it’s designed to deliver to has a cascading effect on the system through shifting referrals elsewhere or to a position of no services available and has a cascading effect on the individual.

When viewed that way, is the funder criminal (or at least unethical or immoral) if they don’t fund the service?

Reducing Inefficiency

The issue and opportunity to this point over the last couple of decades has been the inefficiency inherent in the public sector system. Public sector services do not get the same level of investment as private sector. A telco can choose to spend multiple millions of pounds on a transformation programme and it will happen. No questions (or at least no scrutiny other than board approvals and monitoring). A public service has to jump through many hoops (each costing time, effort and money) to prove it’s spending the money wisely. So public sector transformation programmes usually start smaller than private sector counterparts to make the programme easier to approve, and end up being smaller still after being watered down through many approval boards. Each of these transformations leaves an effect, usually positive in terms of efficiency, but often negative in terms of morale and capacity to flex for the next transformation.

There is still room to go in terms of efficiency. There are still pockets with severe inefficiencies, but they’re rarely on the front-line teams to the scale that’s expected. And it’s these teams that are usually the focus of funding pressures, especially in response to changing demographics, e.g. people living longer and living with more serious needs.

Active Maintenance

In addition, services need active maintenance, to some extent in the same way that you take your car in for regular maintenance. However it’s more than that. Active maintenance is not simply day-to-day management and keeping it running. It’s observing the service from multiple angles to understand what’s happening that shouldn’t be, to uncover why it’s happening and to resolve it so it doesn’t happen again. That takes an investment of time and energy.

In most public sector hierarchies that responsibility falls to the manager. The better managers (there are a few of them) have empowered their team to do this daily. They’re succeeding in keeping the service to acceptable levels (although still probably underfunded to do the job they were originally tasked to do) and keeping ahead of changes in demand. Then there are others who are just managing the day-to-day or take on adapting to change themselves. Even if competent as day-to-day managers, they’re incompetent overall since the service remains static.

Failed Culture

Vim mentions that “Failure in the public sector is also rooted in a culture that means you can’t fail”. The issue is wider than that. It’s already failing. It’s already underfunded. Austerity or not, there isn’t sufficient money to meet front-line services at their current level of demand in the way that they are currently working. Asking a team to be prepared to fail is an awkward request since in their hearts, they’re already aware of the people they’re not able to help. Most of the professional health colleges put a focus on treating the person in front of you, not those in the queue later on. Give proper treatment to the person that you’re currently treating. In a throughput setting, such as a hospital ward with a flow of patients in and out, that makes sense. In a setting where you have a caseload, such as found in most social care settings, that makes less sense overall. The opener to this conundrum of supply and demand is that we may be able to help more people and help them better than now through experimentation. And that has to be allowed to fail. 

Even with that opener, bear in mind that there are ethical considerations in most public sector departments, especially those in education, health or care settings. The Authority has a duty to treat everyone from an equitable position, not necessarily equally. So it can’t create an experiment that disadvantages a customer segment. This can be inadvertent, e.g. by promoting one customer segment’s needs, it alters that principle of equitability. So by improving the service for one segment, it can’t make the rest of the service worse. It’s also widening the gap between the treatment of segments. That’s not a blanket “no”, just be prepared to think it through and complete an Equalities Impact Assessment before you start.

The Value Affix – Xtech and Why I’m Fed Up with Tech part 2

ecommerce

I wrote in the previous article that we don’t need a separate xtech for any given sector x.

Abstracting further, the focus should be on the customer, not the technology.

We see healthtech, fintech and insuretech which indicate the use of new technologies to improve existing or introduce new business models. But technology is just one factor that could be changed.

Historic changes to business models

Instead we could be changing other elements of the business model.

We’ve already seen the changes introduced during the shift from bricks-and-mortar to online. We stuck an “e-” at the beginning of everything. If it’s Apple-related, maybe an “i”.

We saw segmentation and stuck a CRM at the end of it. And I still chuckle from hearing a supplier introduce “farmerCRM” at the time. In that room, we had all misheard PharmaCRM which made more sense consider the state of the market, although nowadays farmerCRM or more formally agriCRM has enough market presence.

Sometimes we did both and added an “e” and a “CRM”, e.g. ePharmaCRM. Although that was more a proposition from one company than an industry concept.

Then organisations started to realise that not every customer type was the same, so we removed the ‘C’ out of CRM and replaced it with ‘P’ for Partner, ‘E’ for Employee, “G” for Government, etc. Fortunately that died out and we are left with CRM for any type of customer.

We looked at how the channels were being managed and ended up with B2B, B2C, P2P, G2C and so on.

Moreover, some brand names have become synonymous with the elements of the business model they’ve changed.

Think cheap, put an “easy” at the front

Think everything related in one place, put an “rUs” at the end (although at the time of writing, maybe that should be Chapter11RUs?)

And we can continue with the other elements of business models looking for the affixes that denote what’s being changed. Unfortunately, we can also use those affixes to misdirect prospects by indicating that we’ve changed but we haven’t, instead we’ve just stuck an “e” at the front because everyone else does.

Focus on the Customer

Whatever element we’re changing, the focus should always be the customer, or rather, how to deliver more value to the customer.

Based on that concept, should we also see healthvalue, finvalue, insurevalue, etc? However similar to the tech suffix mentioned in the previous article and how techtech is absurb, adding value as a suffix also sounds absurd, but for different reasons.

1) The word “value” is being hijacked

The word “value” has become a euphemism for cheap and a synonym for budget, e.g. “you’ll want our value model” meaning “cheap model” or “budget model”. The word has been hijacked by brands not wanting to admit to customers that it’s a cheaper, inferior product to what they could have bought. I remember returning a drill a few years ago because my house broke it. The clutch on the drill had not coped well with the dense bricks and so the drill had stopped working. I returned the drill to be asked “what did you expect? That’s a value drill.”

On one hand, when viewed as value=cheap. That’s just on the edge of being an acceptable response, but should be followed up with how they can help me.

On the other hand, when viewed as value=worth of good received for total cost (money, time, effort) of transaction, then it implies that every other model of drill in that shop doesn’t provide value to the customer. We can then infer, from using the word as commonly defined in the dictionary, that I had obviously bought the right one for me as it was the only one that provided value.

However, in the parlance of that brand, and many other brands, I’d bought a cheap, inferior product. So we’d have to question whether value is the most appropriate term.

2) It’s all just improvement

By affixing a suffix, we lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve. We allow ourselves to abstract from the domain and the problem at hand, and immediately focus on our solution to resolve that problem. That’s definitely the case for the “-tech” suffix or the ‘e’ prefix. By adding -tech, we’re implying that our solution is tech and it will resolve the issues in that sector or allow us to expand into that market. However there may be more appropriate solutions than tech, so we shouldn’t be constrained by that.  Interestingly, the “-value” suffix doesn’t constrain us in that way, so maybe it is suitable after all.

But we still must be aware that what we’re trying to do with every initiative is to improve. It’s either improve our marketshare (and investor returns), improve our efficiency (and hence profits), improve the life of our customers or some combination thereof. Even if we’re innovating or inventing to get to that point, it’s still an aim to improve the position.

Conclusion

So instead of creating yet more hyped portmanteaus, can we simply stick with the original sectors?

Instead of saying you’re in Fintech, say you’re in Finance and you’re increasing the value you provide to customers everyday. You may do that through technology or you may do that by improving the partnership relations. Or probably both. But it’s still Finance.

 

Since I started writing this article, I began to formulate a 3rd article in the series.

Be a Startup, not a Zombie

Zombie Hands
Zombie Hands
Zombie Hands

I’m just catching up on an episode of The Salesman Podcast hosted by Will Barron. The episode is about being the first sales person in a new company.

While I agree with everything Vinnie has said, one thing came to mind. If you’re the first salesperson and you’re conducting product-market fit conversations, then you’re working for a zombie, not a startup; it’s dead, but doesn’t know it.

I can’t think of a more suitable activity for the founders before hiring anyone than to conduct those conversations themselves. The only exception I can think of is where the founders have zero business sense (think of the traditional, out-dated view of scientists) and need to hire to make a business.

Think back to Steve Blank’s Customer Development concepts and subsequently, Eric Ries’ Lean Startup, checking whether the market wants your concept and whether the product you have in mind fits that market need are two fundamental tasks to complete before you build the product or first iteration of the product.

 

 

 

 

 

Be The Customer

Be The Customer

Introduction

Be The Customer
Be The Customer

I really believe in getting customer input, especially before you build you product or service. Lean Six Sigma includes the concept as part of Voice of Customer, Lean Startup and similar methods include the concept within Customer Development. If you work for an existing organisation that currently delivers products/services rather than a start-up, sometimes it’s easier to actually be your customer than to gather their input.

Many companies try to get closer to customer needs by using mystery shoppers. Again, depending on your product this avenue may not be necessary.

Examples

I’ve been reminded of this many times when I see a process that just doesn’t make sense for the customer, but looks like it would have made sense for the person working in the office who created the process. I’ll discuss three examples below:

Traffic Wales

I was driving back from Llandudno on the A55 and a roadside sign flashed a message of “Incident after junction 32”. These IP-enabled roadsigns are a common sight on most of Britain’s motorways allowing staff to remotely update the message on the sign. But this sign was odd for two reasons. First, it was an A-road so to provide a junction number on the warning signs rather than a destination is not that common a sight. This made me wonder whether the message referred to the road I was driving on now or a road that we would intersect with, e.g. M56 or M6. This was compounded by the second oddity; there were no junction numbers on the static road signs nor on my car’s satnav/GPS. I was left confused by a message that may have a large bearing on my journey or none at all. To this day, I still don’t know where the incident was, I was fortunate enough to have an incident-free journey on my route home.

HR department

I worked for a good ICT company almost two decades ago and another one a few years later. In between, I worked for a large consultancy. Both of the ICT companies were moving into the consultancy arena with more mobile staff taking on more business change and less pure ICT activities. As an employee, I found the treatment of mobile staff to be very different between the ICT companies and the consultancy. The policies – such as how much could be spent on hotels, time before you could claim for certain types of expenses, what time the head-office closed in case you were in another country needing assistance to get home – were all written by HR staff from headquarters in both the ICT companies. That made for some interesting events where there were no hotels available (not just a question of standards) for some meetings or no-one to help out when the hire car’s broken down and it’s better for everyone (especially your corporate client) if you change plans. In contrast, the policies at the consultancy were written by consultants who travelled and operated by HR. That made for a much more reliable service, one that gave the mobile staff much better support while travelling.

Local Roads

Local authorities in England inherit the duty to maintain local roads. That involves the scheduling of roadworks and should involve working with national agencies so that motorway roadworks don’t cascade into the local road network. I can think of at least two towns that have had concurrent roadworks on every route out of town, adding 1 or 2 hours to journeys each way. No doubt some of the council officials were involved but probably hadn’t thought of themselves as customers of their own service.

Be The Customer

Both companies could do with thinking about their customers and trying to use the service as a customer would. I think of two actions when I think of being the customer:

  1. Actively take time out of your product development to go and experience what it’s like as a customer. So go and drive on the road a few times a year and watch what messages, signs are being given, what the spacing of roadworks are.
  2. Engage your staff to think like customers as they go about their days and then to inform the teams responsible of what they find.

In the case of the the road sign, the HR policies and possibly the roadworks, the events were initiated by people in the office. All of these could have been improved by being the customer. I saw the difference with the HR policies, it was a much more comfortable experience recognising that as a mobile employee, you were often away from home and family. The issue with roadworks is probably more one of common sense, rather than being a customer. Why block every main artery and some of the minor ones? The act of being a customer creates a better mindset, by forcing you to think in more basic terms. It’s not about the difficulties in the office, takt time or production control, it’s about what you experience as a customer. I’m pretty sure that Traffic Wales would have had the equivalent of England’s Highways Agency Officers driving up and down the A55. Unfortunately, having them think what it’s like being a customer may not have helped too much since they would have to unlearn what they know as part of the job, e.g. abbreviations, road junction numbers, etc. In their case, they’d still have staff who are less integrated to the operation, e.g. new starters, who could be asked to act as the customer on their way to work and back.

In short, this is a variation on the typical lean battle cry of Gemba, “go to where the work is”. In addition, Be The Customer.