Lean Customer Service and Phone Queues

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It's nice to be pleasantly surprised by customer service. I called Avis this morning (I'm not renting through National after their poor service last week). I expected to fight through the usual “customer service” voice prompts, press 1 for this, “please wait, we have higher than expected call volumes, blah blah.”

You know what happened? A person answered the phone. One ring and “Hello, this is Avis Preferred….”

I was stunned. I wasn't ready to talk to a real live person. How nice.

There is a tradeoff between waiting time in a queue and employee utilization (this is basic “queueing theory” stuff that us Industrial Engineers study). Maybe I caught Avis at a low utilization time and a phone rep was immediately ready, lucky for me. Or, maybe they've looked at the tradeoffs and decided that they would rather pay a little more to have idle phone reps, thereby getting queue time (customer wait time) down. The best way to keep costs low is to minimize reps, which would come at the expense of customer queue time. This is why your doctor makes you wait — he or she is emphasizing “doctor utilization” over your patient waiting time (patient, indeed!) There's more to business than low cost. Service counts, too.

That's lean customer service, my Avis experience, thinking about to the book “Lean Solutions,” Avis didn't waste my time. Even with a phone rep ready, they could have made me go through the usual phone prompt system.

Now, I was having to call because my corporate travel didn't “do it right the first time,” so they haven't reached lean status really.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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