Customer Service: The True Competitive Difference

I recently read Jim Womack’s Gemba Walks, which has been one of my personal favorite books to date. Upon completion, I began to reflect on my own many gemba walks, both those in my professional career and as a consumer.

As someone with a passion for lean and customer service, I quickly thought of a few bad consumer experiences with which I trust everyone can relate. All of these demonstrated zero respect for customers’ time, and once a defect had occurred, it was handled very poorly. The first experience happened at a resort I recently visited with my family when I had to move three times due to issues with our room. The issue nearly consumed our entire first day of vacation. I had to call the front desk 10 times and talk to 15 different people to get a crib for my two year-old who desperately needed a nap after traveling all day.

The second experience occurred when I purchased some home exercise equipment that was defective when delivered. For four weeks, I continued to get the “run-around” on the phone for who knows how many hours. After five service calls to my house, the product was finally operational.

The third example would be my frequent air travel - but we won’t go there.

However, I have witnessed a few positive examples in fast food restaurants lately that both excited me and made me think. I went to Wendy’s a few weeks ago and saw this visual (shown below) on the wall that all the employees had signed. I thought it was a pretty neat way to ensure everyone had consistency around the expectation of service to their customers. The vibe from the employees was unlike anything I had ever experienced in a fast food restaurant. They did, at least to me, do exactly as this visual promised. My expectations had been set very low, as I typically deal with a 16 year old kid who could care less. After these expectations were surpassed, I was intrigued and quickly began questioning my own organization’s requirements for customer service. How could we improve?

A few days later, my experience with customer service was taken to an entirely new level at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. In addition to the food tasting better than most other fast food restaurants (in my opinion), Chick-Fil-A employees went out of their way to ensure their customers had an absolutely great experience. Employees were dressed well, all of them were smiling from ear to ear, and the manager was out on the floor chatting with customers waiting in line - simply asking how their day was going. A lady and her 10 year-old daughter next to me said they weren’t having the best day and the manager said, “How about I buy your lunch to help out? Anything you want.” The little girl was elated. I ordered a kids meal for my daughter, which came with fresh fruit and cheerios as opposed to french fries and a toy (a plus for mom and dad). My hands were completely full with my daughter in my arms and all her stuff, so the employee who took our order arranged for someone to carry our tray and assist us in getting our condiments. They also provided wet wipes for us to wash our hands prior to eating (which for us clean freaks, was nice). As we were eating, I noticed employees outside greeting customers in the drive thru line and handing out coupons to those waiting a while. (Who doesn’t like coupons?) Then they came to our table to see how things were tasting and refilled our drinks - I didn’t have to get up and go wait in line! Surprisingly, the restaurant’s prices are really no different compared to others in its market. It is no wonder this place is always packed and the company itself continues to grow.

So what is my point? I will absolutely go back to Chick-Fil-A just because of the customer experience I had. That is what sets them apart from other places in my mind. I can’t help but pose a few questions around the topic of customer service:

  • Do we completely know what matters most to our customers?
  • Do we truly understand their perception of the customer experience?
  • How can we make sure our customers have the absolute best experience possible - every time?
  • Are the expectations around customer service completely clear to all team members?
  • When we have a defect, how do we work to solve it as quickly and painlessly as possible for our customers?
  • Are we easy to do business with?

I then begin to consider how can I learn from these experiences and apply them to the supply chain industry? In the supply chain world, we provide three types of service:

  1. Planning and execution of materials and information flow
  2. Firefighting / contingency management and problem solving
  3. Continuous improvement

All of these services are extremely important in the supply chain industry with the goal being to spend the majority of your resources and energy to services #1 and 3 in order to mitigate the quantity and impact of the fires to your customers and operations. The operational reality is there will always be fires to put out and problems to be solved. So I would like to take a deeper dive into the key elements of success to delivering service #2, as it is critical to delivering excellent service to the customer when problems do arise.

  • We need to see a problem before the customer does
  • Inform the customer before they inform us
  • Communicate a containment strategy if an immediate one is necessary
  • Identify key actions / events that need to occur to solve the problem
  • Update the customer on the situation before they ask
  • Escalate the situation up the chain of command as the situation warrants
  • Close the problem and inform all necessary parties it is closed

What processes and visual management tools are in place in your operations to ensure problems are visible, expectations around customer service are clear to all team members, and they are delivering the key elements above? I encourage you to go your own gemba, test your processes, build a Failure Modes Effects Analysis (FMEA) and drive improvement to ensure the processes and tools are in place to support real time problem identification, communication, escalation, and resolution for your customer.

Written by Matt Melrose, Vice President of Operations at LeanCor

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

blog author

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

LinkedIn Google+



NEW: Resource Center

Lean Logistics and Transportation Management

From carrier management to network design, browse our best content – webinars, articles, videos, podcasts, and more. 

Visit the Transportation Resource Center

Subscribe Now!

Recent Posts

Supply Chain Brief