Lean Eyes on Customer Service


Evolving Excellence: Adventures in Customer Service

I was already thinking of blogging on customer service adventures today when I saw the post by Kevin Meyers on his blog. His post is worth reading, as it illustrates how a lean process thinking can shed insight on non-manufacturing issues.

I love complaining about bad customer service more than most, it's not always a good trait, I realize. But, I think it might be bearable when I can put it into lean terms.

Episode 1: Why bother with your “contact us” button??

My wife and I are looking into options for new flooring in our living room. We discovered the idea of cork flooring, which is becoming more popular and has some interesting advantages. I found a store in the area that carries cork flooring and got a brochure for the cork flooring manufacturer. After browsing their site, I thought “maybe this manufacturer will give me a list of retailers and installers in the Fort Worth area.” So, I clicked on their large inviting “CONTACT US” button. I clearly entered a request to be contacted, that I was a prospective customer and wanted some information to help me purchase their product.

Three days later, I've heard nothing. I'm looking to spend thousands of dollars and I've heard nothing.

My challenge to companies — why have a “CONTACT US” button if your customer contact is going to enter a black hole?

The suggestion: clearly state, like some websites do, what your “turnaround time” on replying to the customer is. It might be “unreasonable” to them for a customer (me) to expect a response within three days, but my “voice of the customer” would tell them that…. if I wasn't afraid to again click “CONTACT US” to tell them so :-)

This manufacturer might be incredibly lean, from a factory standpoint. But, their customer acquisition process is clearly broken, which must hamper their success.

Episode 2: How many times do I have to repeat my story?

I run into this all the time when having to contact a company to do some customer “problem solving” — airlines, hotels, cable companies, and now my bank. It rhymes with “Stank of Blah-merica.” I called to question a check card transaction and had to repeat my question/compaint FIVE times to different departments and representatives, sitting on hold in between each interaction.

Now, when calling customer service, I realize no one single representative can handle all questions and inquiries. Nobody can be that fully cross-trained. I fully expect that the first person I talk to serves the function of classifying and sorting calls. I have learned to be as brief as possible, to save my time and breath, to say just enough to get my call routed to someone who can solve my problem (or so I hope)

When that first transfer happens and the rep CANNOT solve my problem, that's when I get frustrated. I spent 45 minutes on the phone today with my bank and never got the question answered, after asking it five times. As Jim Womack writes about in his book, Lean Solutions, far too many companies think your time, as a customer, is “free” and they treat it as such. That erodes much of the loyalty I might have had in seven years of holding an account there.

My challenge to companies — make sure the second person (if not the first person) I talk is fully empowered to research and solve my problem. I've heard many phone reps say something to the effect of “I don't have enough authority to fix that, let me transfer you to a supervisor.”

Pure waste, having to repeat your story again to the supervisor.

I recall a TV ad, I don't remember what it was for, where the customer had recorded his beef on a tape recorder and hit “play” when he was transferred to a new phone rep. I'll have to start doing that. It would be nice if these “Customer Relationship Management” software packages that these call centers use could record your complaint and automatically play it back for the next person who comes on to help.

“Your call may be recorded for waste reduction purposes.” Now that would be music to my ears. Music that would get that hold music out of my head.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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