Is there an ad nowadays that can live without using the vowels A & I? Let’s limit this topic to “A” and not include any artificial ingredients! When it comes to running your business efficiently you naturally want to streamline operations to be more responsive to your customer and of course to rip cost out the process as well. We often term this process optimization. If we followed the wisdom of KAISAN we would watch, document and fully understand a process so the “MUDA” (waste) was exposed. After removing the “waste” we would have a process that is more efficient and likely more effective as well.
Efficiency is largely about ripping out cost. That’s easy. You stop doing things that consume resources like time and labor and your costs go down. The second level of efficiency usually involves automating steps in a process that are required but do not require a human to “touch” them. These steps we automate using some form technology (software and/or hardware). Unless you spent too much on the technology this will result in your cost going down further.
Now let’s look at the other side of process optimization. Effectiveness is sometimes a different story. Why? An effective process may include some things that you could do without except for the fact it generates good will with your customer, your stakeholders and your community. We call that the cost of doing business. To explain this I’d provide a user story that I experienced on my recent trip to Miami.
Went to Kayak and liked what Expedia had to offer for my flight and rental car options. So far so good. Booked everything easily and received my email confirmations. Flight was great – first time flying Spirit and the experience was great! So far so good. When I arrived at Fort Lauderdale airport, I noticed a message on bottom portion of my printed (yes, I printed it) Expedia confirmation. Whereas the top read my confirmation was confirmed and there is no reason to call, at the bottom I saw this
GRAB YOUR BAGS AND LET US KNOW YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT FLL BY CALLING XXX-XXX-XXX. FOLLOW SIGNS TO THE RENTAL CAR CENTER AND PROCEED TO BUS STOP X IN FRONT OF THE RENTAL CAR CENTER. OUR XXXXXX XXXX SHUTTLE WILL BRING YOU TO OUR FACILITY.
The intent here is to make a point, not to bash a business; hence the Xs. So since I was waiting for baggage anyway, I called to let them we had arrive and provided my confirmation number. Now not so good. My reservation had been cancelled. Not recalling being part of that experience I asked why. Ah the process had been automated such that no humans had to touch the step that cancels a customer’s reservation. I was told:
- They are not associated with Expedia.
- I must have received a text telling me I had to download their app and re-complete the reservation process only using their app.
- They had not “cancelled” my reservation.
Hmmm, so I asked who had cancelled the reservation then. And since I had not received any text message from them how would I know this process was affecting my customer experience negatively without even knowing it. The response was that “We did not cancel your reservation. The system did because you did not respond to the text messages.” Are we good now? I’d like to leave out the part where I was told I could now download their app while the four of us stood outside in rainy weather where I found my cell service was so bad, I couldn’t even connect to UBER!? Point made. Automating a process is a good thing when you understand what and why you are automating; and when it is focused not only on reducing costs but increasing the customer experience. Maybe I’m part of the cost of doing business, but that is not always a bad thing.
The end of the story. I booked instead with Budget (the original car company was not one of the big three) and we were on our way in a brand new Durango! Now I hope the rest of the story includes the other rental car company seeing my post and using it as positive criticism that will result in better customer experiences in the future.
So in summary, automation is a key ingredient in process optimization. It is not the first step. Make sure you fully understand the process and the end goal in mind. That must include improving the customer experience, not only cutting costs. Happy automating!