Why We Love Service (And You Should, Too!)

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We routinely stop at fuel stations to get some service, perhaps to add some fuel, have more oil added to the engine, perhaps for a car wash or even maybe to have a mechanic service the vehicle. I was in line waiting to be served at my local filling station and as I waited for my turn to be served. I could not help but wonder what it would take to get quicker service without compromising on quality.

There was plenty of activity at the filling station and even if it was busy, I imagined that there must be some acceptable time frame for serving a customer from the moment they drive in and stop at the fuel pump up to the moment payment is successfully processed.

As I was contemplating this, my mind wandered off to a time I first admired the intrigues and efficiency of teams in my favourite motorsport of Formula 1. Even though there is great competition between teams and individual drivers, there are some models of service delivery that can be borrowed over for our day to day experience at filling stations.

On the formula 1 race track, there is a special designated service garage area known as the “Pit”. A pit stop entails a race car driving off the race track through a designated access route to the garage area, where it will stop for a brief moment to be serviced, assesses for damages and have some components replaced as the driver takes some water to rehydrate his body and is later on released back into the on-going race.

It’s a great marvel watching the sequence of events that occur during a pit stop and by observing the minimal time it takes to accomplish those activities, it’s truly a feat of efficiency. A couple of season’s back, before some race regulations were changed by the sport’s governing body, the FIA, the pit stop’s activities looked something like this. On a race cars arrival at the pit stop, it is directed to stop at its teams dedicated location, is propped up at both the front and rear ends. There are mechanics on hand to loosen and remove wheel bolts on a tyre, a second one to remove the tyre, and the third one to replace the tyre that’s been removed with a new one and the fastens the bolts to hold the wheel in place. This happens for all four tyres, being replaced with a new set while fuel is being added to the race car. If need arise from some structural damage, there may be a replacement for a front end wing. All these activities are carefully choreographed with precision and timeliness and in flawless execution can take anything from four to ten seconds, and the driver is released from the pit stop to continue with the race.

That kind of service is mind boggling and coming back to reality, I wondered just how much of that kind of service excellence can be replicated to our day to day normal circumstances. By using some tools in Lean and Six Sigma methodologies there will be a great impact on customer service by increasing efficiency and also when waste is reduced, with waste being described as activities or processes that do not add value to the customer and also by reducing defects in these processes.

An operational audit can be done and this can look at factors such as where the revenue comes from, how the majority of customers are handled and who are the primary suppliers. Having these factors known would be great for the business so that it can position itself well in terms of operations, as well as have a good Business Process Mapping and Value Stream Mapping.

We can consider using SIPOC which stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer in helping somebody understand a proper mapping of components of the business from front to end.  The supplier in this case is the car driver who gives the order. The input here will be fuel, lubricants and tyre pressure. The process would begin by the driver first arriving at the pump, the fuel attendant taking an order, adding fuel to the vehicles fuel tank, or air pressure to the tyres or adding lubricants to the car engine. The output should be correct air pressure to the tyres, correctly filling the required amount of fuel and lubricant levels. The customer’s requirements are that there is accuracy in filling the correct fuel type and quantity, the service being on-time and the products needed being available.

By using some management tools in Lean Six Sigma methodologies, there will be a great impact to customer service when waste is reduced and defects are minimized in the process. SIPOC defines the scope of work for a team and identifies at a high level the potential gaps between what a process expects from its suppliers and what customers expect from the process. This is helpful since it identifies potential gaps between suppliers and input specifications, and also between output specifications and customer’s expectations; thus defining the scope for process improvement activities.

In such a scenario, the greatest waste that would need to be worked on in order to create a better customer experience is the waste of time caused in waiting. This can be done by streamlining processes and making them consistent in outcome without defects or getting the customer order wrong. They will also need to remove unnecessary motion of people from their service points and can have the fuel pumps area redesigned well in order to have  lubricants, an air pressure dispenser, and water jar so that a car does not have to drive from one point to another to access services that can be conveniently offered in one place.

Cycle efficiency can be increased tremendously through such a form of organisation of the work area, being the forecourt area and the management would do well by using XY Priority Matrix, which should be preceded by the voice of the customer input. This may come from various surveys or other efforts to collect customer priorities. In such a scenario, this service station could be trying to determine how to improve its services.

Customers could indicate that “fast and easy to get assistance” is their number one priority and “more fuel attendants” as their second priority. It would be easy to identify the priorities through voice of the customer, and by listing them correctly in order, management can brain-storm on ideas that can lead to creating service improvements.

The XY matrix is a tool that will allow a team to make informed decisions by comparing two sets of information and analysing the relationship between them; and will allow you to consider a list of characteristics and visually see patterns between them. That way the team can make decisions based on data rather than opinion and most importantly incorporate voice of the customer input in decision making.

This is why we love service. We help our clients improve their performance and achieve sustained profitable growth within the global market. We believe that if clients are happy with the service or product, they will be willing to pay for it. We drive this improvement by looking into the areas of People, Technology optimization and Process improvement.

Nicholas Maina Karuere – SigmaStrat


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