Tag Archives: customer service

Practical Poka-Yoke

[Note: I’ve been away from the blog for several months now in the middle of very significant changes in my life. That’s about to change! In the next post, I’ll tell you about what happened and what my plans are for the future. In the meantime, I wanted to share something that happened to me today.]

A couple hours ago, I went to the ATM machine.

I don’t use cash often, so I haven’t been to an ATM machine in several months. Regardless, I’m fully accustomed to the pattern: put card in, enter secret code, tell the machine what I want, get my money, take my card. This time, I was really surprised by how long it was taking for my money to pop out.

Maybe there’s a problem with the connectivity? Maybe I should check back later? I sat in my car thinking about what the best plan of action would be… and then I decided to read the screen. (Who needs to read the screen? We all know what’s supposed to happen… so much so, that I was able to use an ATM machine entirely in the Icelandic language once.)

PLEASE TAKE YOUR CARD TO DISPENSE FUNDS, it said.

This is one of the simplest and greatest examples of poka-yoke (or “mistake-proofing”) I’ve ever seen. I had to take my card out and put it away before I could get my money! I was highly motivated to get the money (I mean, that’s the specific thing I came to the ATM to get) so of course I’m going to do whatever is required to accomplish my goal. The machine was forcing me to take my card — preventing the mistake of me accidentally leaving my card in the machine — which could be problematic for both me and the bank.

Why have I never seen this before? Why don’t other ATMs do this? I went on an intellectual fishing expedition and found out that no, the idea is not new… Lockton et al. (2010) described it like this:

A major opportunity for error with historic ATMs came from a user leaving his or her ATM card in the machine’s slot after the procedure of dispensing cash or other account activity was complete (Rogers et al., 1996, Rogers and Fisk, 1997). This was primarily because the cash was dispensed before the card was returned (i.e. a different sequence for Plan 3 in the HTA of Fig. 3), leading to a postcompletion error—“errors such as leaving the original document behind in a photocopier… [or] forgetting to replace the gas cap after filling the tank” (Byrne and Bovair, 1997). Postcompletion error is an error of omission (Matthews et al., 2000); the user’s main goal (Plan 0 in Fig. 3) of getting cash was completed so the further “hanging postcompletion action” (Chung and Byrne, 2008) of retrieving the card was easily forgotten.

The obvious design solution was, as Chung and Byrne (2008) put it, “to place the hanging postcompletion action ‘on the critical path’ to reduce or eliminate [its] omission” and this is what the majority of current ATMs feature (Freed and Remington, 2000): an interlock forcing function (Norman, 1988) or control poka-yoke (Shingo, 1986), requiring the user to remove the card before the cash is dispensed. Zimmerman and Bridger (2000) found that a ‘card-returned-then-cash-dispensed’ ATM dialogue design was at least 22% more efficient (in withdrawal time) and resulted in 100% fewer lost cards (i.e. none) compared with a ‘cash-dispensed-then-card-returned’ dialogue design.

I don’t think the most compelling message here has anything to do with design or ATMs, but with the value of hidden gems tucked into research papers.  There is a long lag time between recording genius ideas and making them broadly available to help people. One of my goals over the next few years is to help as many of these nuggets get into the mainstream as possible. If you’ve got some findings that you think would benefit the entire quality community (or quality management systems or software), get in touch… I want to hear from you!

 

Reference:

Lockton, D., Harrison, D., & Stanton, N. A. (2010). The Design with Intent Method: A design tool for influencing user behaviour. Applied ergonomics41(3), 382-392.

Voice of the Customer (VOC) in the Internet of Things (IoT)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

In February, I speculated about how our notion of “Voice of the Customer” (VoC) might change, since between 2016 and 2020 we are poised to witness the Internet of Things (IoT) as it grows from 6.4 billion to over 20 billion entities. The IoT will require us to re-think fundamental questions about how our interests as customer and stakeholders are represented. In particular,

  • What will the world look (and feel) like when everything you interact with has a “voice”?
  • How will the “Voice of the Customer” be heard when all of that customer’s stuff ALSO has a voice?
  • Will your stuff have “agency” — that is, the right to represent your needs and interests to other products and services?

Companies are also starting to envision how their strategies will morph in response to the new capabilities offered by the IoT. Starbucks CTO Gerri Martin-Flickenger, for example, shares her feelings in GeekWire, 3/24/2016:

“Imagine you’re on a road trip, diving across the country, and you pull into a Starbucks drive-through that you’ve never been to before,” she said at the Starbucks annual shareholder’s meeting Wednesday in Seattle. “We detect you’re a loyal customer and you buy about the same thing every day, at about the same time. So as you pull up to the order screen, we show you your order, and the barista welcomes you by name.”

“Does that sound crazy?” she asked. “No, actually, not really. In the coming months and years you will see us continue to deliver on a basic aspiration: to deliver technology that enhances the human connection.”

IoT to enhance the human connection? Sounds great, right? But hold on… that’s not what she’s talking about. She wants to enhance the feeling of connection between individuals and a companynothing different than cultivating customer loyalty.

Her scenario is actually pretty appealing: I can imagine pulling up to a Starbuck’s drive-through and having everything disappear from the screen except for maybe 2 or 3 choices of things I’ve had before, and 1 or 2 choices for things I might be interested in. The company could actually work with me to help alleviate my sensory overload problems, reducing the stress I experience when presented with a hundred-item menu, and improving my user experience. IoT can help them hear my voice  as a customer, and adapt to my preferences, but it won’t make them genuinely care about me any more than they already do not.

When I first read this article, I thought it would give me insight into a question I’ve had for a while now… but the question is still substantially unanswered: How can IoT facilitate capturing and responding to VoC in a way that really does cultivate human connection? John Hagel and John Seely Brown, in my opinion, are a little closer to the target:

[Examples] highlight a paradox inherent in connected devices and the Internet of Things: although technology aims to weave data streams without human intervention, its deeper value comes from connecting people. By offloading data capture and information transfer to the background, devices and applications can actually improve human relationships. Practitioners can use technology to get technology out of the way—to move data and information flows to the side and enable better human interaction…

A Robust Approach to Determining Voice of the Customer (VOC)

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

I got really excited when I discovered Morris Holbrook’s 1996 piece on customer value, and wanted to share it with all of you. From the perspective of philosophy, he puts together a vision of what we should mean by customer value… and a framework for specifying it. The general approach is straightforward:

“Customer Value provides the foundation for all marketing activity…
One can understand a given type of value only by considering its relationship to other types of value.
Thus, we can understand Quality only by comparison with Beauty, Convenience, and Reputation; we can understand Beauty only by comparison with Quality, Fun, and Ecstasy.”

There are MANY dimensions that should be addressed when attempting to characterize the Voice of the Customer (VOC). When interacting with your customers or potential customers, be sure to use surveys or interview techniques that aim to acquire information in all of these areas for a complete assessment of VOC.

The author defines customer value as an “interactive relativistic preference experience”:

  • Interactive – you construct your notion of value through interaction with the object
  • Relativistic – you instinctively do pairwise comparisons (e.g. “I like Company A’s customer service better than Company B’s”)
  • Preference – you make judgments about the value of an object
  • Experience – value is realized at the consumption stage, rather than the purchase stage

Hist typology of customer value is particularly interesting to me:

typology-customer-value

Most of the time, we do a good job at coming up with quality attributes that reflect efficiency and excellence. Some of the time, we consider aesthetics and play. But how often – while designing a product, process, or service – have you really thought about status, esteem, ethics, and spirituality as dimensions of quality?

This requires taking an “other-oriented” approach, as recommended by Holbrook. We’re not used to doing that – but as organizations transform to adjust the age of empathy, it will be necessary.

Holbrook, M. B. (1996) . “Special Session Summary Customer Value C a Framework For Analysis and Research”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 138-142. Retrieved from http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7929

Value Proposition Design: A Fun and Engaging (New!) Guidebook

Alex Osterwalder's "Value Proposition Design" toolkit is now available

Alex Osterwalder’s “Value Proposition Design” toolkit is now available on Amazon

I just finished reviewing Alex Osterwalder‘s new book, Value Proposition Design, for ASQ’s Quality Management Journal. Although my review won’t be published until January 2015, this is such a refreshing and exciting book that I wanted to make sure all of you know about it now: because it will be available on Amazon tomorrow (Monday, October 20th)!

I met Alex this past September at BIF10 in Providence, Rhode Island, which (if you haven’t heard of it yet… or attended) is an inspiring and intimate two-day gathering of dynamic storytellers and equally dynamic participants. Everyone at BIF is engaged in some kind of social, civic, or business innovation — and many of the projects and ideas you hear about challenge outmoded assumptions in refreshing ways.

Alex is a little different… he’s a catalyst for other innovators. His company aims to provide individuals and teams with the tools they need to create new ventures, or improve existing projects and organizations, by critically examining the entire process of value creation and delivery. And this new release doesn’t disappoint — in large part, because the tools, techniques, and approaches that he promotes are consistent and aligned with various quality bodies of knowledge.

“The authors have created a fun and engaging text, full of cartoon-like pictures and exercises, that will be easily accessible to any member of a business development or quality improvement team. There are practical examples and stories provided throughout, which illuminate the concepts effectively and can help teams expand, refine, enhance, and articulate their visions by applying best practices through successful templates. The only weakness of this book is that it does not tie any of its assertions or practices to the academic literature. However, the Value Proposition Design canvas that this book describes in detail has demonstrated clear value already for many practitioners, and may provide researchers with ideas for making additional connections between established quality tools, principles, and practices.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

Wherever you flip open the book, it’s organized so you’re presented with a complete idea that spans the left and right pages. This makes it very browsable and engaging, and an effective form for interlacing new ideas with repackaged perspectives on older techniques. For example, the “Find your Earlyvangelist” page reminds me of a new, more agile take on the 3M Lead User process, which many organizations have used over the past two decades to fine-tune their product characteristics and service delivery before wider release. I also like how several of the left page-right page idea blocks are aligned with broader concepts. The picture below shows one such example, where “learning” is the unifying concepts, and the pages that follow describe each of the techniques on the right in details:

vpd2

Overall, this was a really fun book to read and review. Are you looking for a way to get teams with diverse backgrounds on the same page for value creation? If so, this would be an excellent guidebook to help make it happen.

“[Alex’s new book] is a strong new contribution to the practitioner literature in quality management, and outlines many new approaches for value creation.” — Me, in my January 2015 review of this book for the Quality Management Journal

How Not to Deliver on Your Mission

rex-familyI’m sitting here in my hotel room at the Rex Hotel Jazz & Blues Bar in downtown Toronto. It could have been an amazing experience… even though the room itself is tiny, the bed is functional but definitely not plush, and there’s quite a bit of road noise. You see, there’s a world class jazz band playing downstairs right now. Perhaps they haven’t even started… I’ve no way to know.

I arrived here around 8pm after a long, 10-hour drive from the fantastic BIF10 meeting in Providence. Although the reservations desk was closed, a nice sign instructed me to go to the bar, where it was very easy to order a beer and a sandwich and get my hotel room and bar tab taken care of in one fell swoop. It felt nice. I was enjoying the ambience, until halfway through my second beer when an older man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

“You’re going to have to vacate this seat for a paying customer. There’s a band coming in at 9:30.”

This was kind of confusing to me, since I was on my second beer, was done with my sandwich, and had just invested $115 in a room for the night. “I’m staying here,” I let him know.

Doesn’t matter,” he said. “Everyone has to pay the $15 cover. It’s not included in your room.” He was gruff and unyielding, kind of like a New Yorker. (I wasn’t expecting that… I thought Canadians were far more collegial, eh?) He walked away, leaving me to think about what just happened.

About 10 minutes later my bartender came over. “Would you like another beer?” he asked.

“Well, apparently I can’t have one,” I said. “Some other man told me I needed to vacate unless I wanted to pay a $15 cover, even though I’m staying here.”

“That’s right,” the younger guy cheerfully acknowledged. “The shows are not part of the hotel room. Either you pay the cover or you have to leave.”

I’m not one to argue, but this made me really mad. I let him know that this “very important detail” was not on the Hotel’s web site. Nor had anyone told me about it. “Well,” he said, “if you had arrived earlier, the doorman would have told you, and it’s also on your information sheet.” So you see, it was all my fault already. I was late and I didn’t read the sheet.

“Where is my information sheet?”

“Upstairs, on the bed, in the room you haven’t checked into yet.” (Whew. I thought I’d missed it.) I explained to him that I came a half hour out of my way to experience the Rex. I could have stayed in the ASQ conference hotel, nearer the airport, for less. But I came here for the experience of a hotel and a jazz club, together – the home-like nature of being able to weave in and out of the club atmosphere as I’d like. I was so encouraged by their marketing materials that said I’d “feel like part of the family”. He said he was sorry, again, but there was nothing they could do. (Really? It would have been so nice just to be able to sit there and finish that last beer for the evening. I probably would have headed upstairs shortly after the show started, anyway.)

In addition to a “sorry” — he tried to convince me of the value of this very prominent New York band that was about to start, and it was important that they collected the extra $15 from everyone. More important than just letting me finish my dinner.

(Apparently, you interrupt the family while they’re in the middle of their dinner to pay $15 or give up their seat.)

This sent a very strong message. In fact, it felt like extortion must feel (to a lesser extent). You’re not welcome unless you pay ANOTHER $15. You need to leave your seat NOW so someone who’s willing to pay can get in!! Doesn’t matter that you have paid quite a bit. You need to pay more. Sorry.

Could I at least come downstairs a little later (after I write my blog post to vent about this service experience) to get a beer and take it downstairs, I asked?

“Sure, if you pay the $15 first. We’re happy to direct you to other bars.” Well, unfortunately, I think you’ve directed me to other bars (and hotels) permanently. Or maybe it’s fortunate. It would be difficult to feel less wanted and welcome somewhere else.

Dear Rex, I do not feel like part of the family. I am upstairs in my room, feeling like the wayward child who’s not included from the festivities because she didn’t bring an extra $15. Feeling like I couldn’t even stick around to finish my dinner. I wish I could leave now where I feel more welcome — even at a nameless, faceless chain hotel that doesn’t say that it would LIKE me to feel like family, but I’m parked in overnight public parking, and I don’t have anywhere else to go. You claim that you are “attentive, convenient, and down-to-earth friendly.” But all I got was a “sorry you didn’t see our policy.”

LESSON TO SERVICE PROVIDERS: Include that extra $15 in the room charge. Make the guest feel welcome at the show, even if they choose not to attend. If they didn’t know the policy (because you don’t have it on your web site), figure out a way to make accommodations. Or they might see fit to write a blog post to 100,000 quality practitioners across the globe who might be able to learn from this and not make the same mistake.

The Future of Quality is Revolutionary

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

Image Credit: Dave Herod Photography (c) 2014

In his August post, ASQ CEO Bill Troy asks “Is the future of quality evolutionary or revolutionary?

My answer is unequivocal: it’s revolutionary. We’re going to need new models for business, new models for education, and new models for living if we are to satisfy the stated and implied needs of an increasingly interconnected Internet of people and things, where the need for sustainability will (in many cases) trump the desire for growth.

“Quality is the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” — ISO 9000, para 3.1.5

New models, however, aren’t always necessary. We can continuously improve elements of old models to increase quality, and the need for this won’t disappear. The future of quality includes evolutionary advancements, but won’t be defined by it, as we emerge into new collective paradigms for management. We’ve already experienced this once (in the late 1980’s and 1990’s), and we’re about to feel the reverberations of another shift.

A Harvard Business Review blog post from July 30 (“Management’s Three Eras: A Brief History”) explains why. The first two eras that we’ve had experience with are organization as machine (the era of Taylorism), and organization as knowledge and knowledge flows (as popularized by people like Peter Senge and Tom Davenport). Methods for establishing and improving quality have been defined, refined, and flourished in these two eras.

But the third and emerging era, according to this article, is the age of empathyorganization as a vehicle for creating complete and meaningful experiences:

“Today, we are in the midst of another fundamental rethinking of what organizations are and for what purpose they exist. If organizations existed in the execution era to create scale and in the expertise era to provide advanced services, today many are looking to organizations to create complete and meaningful experiences. I would argue that management has entered a new era of empathy.”

Although we have some available approaches for quality improvement in this kind of era, they are incomplete: Voice of the Customer tools, for example, may make our experiences with products and services efficient, effective, and satisfying — but possibly neither complete or meaningful. How do we, for example, create mechanisms to assess and improve quality in the sharing economy? In decommodified environments? In our own personal lives?

What do you think? Share your ideas in the comments.

Quality in Education Part 1: The Customer Service Mentality is Flawed

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to

May’s ASQ “View from the Q” post by Julia McIntosh explores the link between quality and education, a theme that emerged in discussions at this May’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI) in Dallas. As a college professor, this is a subject I think about all the time.

Here’s the issue: higher quality in education should yield a stronger, more capable workforce. But there are some disconnects here in practice. As Julia remarks, “students in the U.S. are praised for poor performance or for ‘just showing up’… as a result, they expect to be celebrated for mediocrity, rather than for quality.” This doesn’t bode well for effectively constructing a long-term pipeline of new talent.

From the quality perspective, what can we do to improve education? I’ll address this from the perspective of post-secondary higher education, those critical (usually four) years between graduating from high school and landing that all-important entry-level job. My recipe has three ingredients, explored in this three-part post. First, we need to shift our collective consciousness.

#1 Higher education is NOT a service industry. But it’s become big business, so it’s natural that administrators have picked up on the jargon of corporations. I read articles all the time that talk about how students are customers, attending classes where they are provided good customer service by their professors and the universities. According to this analogy, the degree is the product that the student can hold for perpetuity… a token of supposed capabilities that can be exchanged for jobs and money… an “investment in their future earnings potential.”

In March, the Chronicle of Higher Education provided a great explanation of why this position is fundamentally flawed:

Students who believe that they are mere customers are selling themselves short, as are the faculty members and administrators who apply business-speak to the classroom. Students are not customers to be served. They are far more important than that.

Customer service implies participating in a system of transaction or exchange in which one side provides a service to another. While plenty of money changes hands, universities don’t really sell a product, not in the sense that “customer service” implies, anyway. At most, I think we might argue that students are purchasing a well-structured opportunity to learn or obtain (we hope) meaningful credentials. The “well-structured” point is critical. When I hear students explicitly define themselves as customers, it’s often in the context of perceived bad teaching, a sense that the structure surrounding the learning opportunity is somehow deficient.

It’s not just that students want simply to buy a degree. Students place reasonable desires—faster grading, fewer lectures, more lectures, more preparation, clearer grading standards, etc.—into the framework of commerce. It’s a way of reversing the power dynamics. A customer holds a special place in our society. They have the right to complain, pressure, and go over the head of the worker to the management.

– See more at: http://m.chronicle.com/article/Faculty-Members-Are-Not/145363/#sthash.ZgvMp94X.D6wokNur.dpuf

To me, the notion of “student as customer” in the traditional sense is absurd, because education is about a co-creative experience. Education is about exercising your critical and analytical thinking skills, learning about yourself and what you’re good at (and what you enjoy), and learning how to relate to others. It’s about gradually, and through practice, becoming better at all of the above. It’s about discovering new meaning in yourself and in the world. It is as much a product of the people around you, getting educated at the same time, as it is the subject matter you’re exploring. It’s a transformation that happens within you — and is not a service that can be provided FOR you or TO you. You’re in charge of how well that education will “work” — if at all.

It’s kind of like trying to recast the church in the language of corporate jargon. Is your priest or minister your service provider? What is customer satisfaction if you attend church? Do you really have a right to demand it? If you don’t agree with everything your religious advisor says, or how they say it, do you have a right to complain (because they’re not meeting your needs)? Of course church is different than college… spiritual advisors don’t try to grade you, nor do they hold that all-important “degree” for you to advance to the next level. To be able to move forward in life with a solid spiritual foundation. You can achieve salvation, you know, but only if you get at least a 2.5 GPA and don’t fail any of your primary doctrine courses or commit sins that are too big.

You get in what you put out. If you sign up for a gym and never exercise, or go there and don’t use the equipment, are you going to be dissatisfied as a customer? Probably not, because you know that you have a critical role to play in how well the gym works for you. You are paying a certain number of dollars a month for the privilege of being able to use the facilities, and benefit from the resources (physical and intellectual) provided by the environment.

Ironically, if we regularly used a framework like SERVQUAL to assess the quality of higher education, we’d be focusing on more of the right things: competence, courtesy, credibility, security, access, communication, knowing the customer/beneficiary, physical evidence of service, reliability, responsiveness. This does not reduce the concept of customer satisfaction to just how happy the consumer is upon delivery of the service, but integrates the nature of service delivery and the critical role of the customer in co-creating the experience of satisfaction.

The current educational model makes achieving high quality in terms dimension like SERVQUAL’s difficult, if not impossible: using this as a framework, a student who discovers they really shouldn’t be in college (but should be working in a bakery or a hair salon instead, to achieve their personal goals) would be evidence of a high quality educational environment. Abandoning pursuit of a degree to pursue interests or a lifestyle that’s ultimately more satisfying to an individual… well, I don’t know of many colleges (or students!) who would consider that indicative of a high quality education.

What is the Second Ingredient?

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