Process Improvement – Internally-focused vs. Thinking of Your Customer

Process Improvement - Pivotal Resources Blog

While traveling recently, I met up with friends and we decided to get some sandwiches at an airport takeout before catching our flight.  Impressed by the fact that one of the vendors had placed an attendant at the entrance of the shop to write down orders and expedite movement of the line to minimize waiting, we decided to order our meals there as we needed to leave within a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, the “look” of efficiency turned out to be quite misleading. The more important look was the one on our faces when we waited patiently for our food and then, upon pickup, found out that one of the sandwiches wasn’t even available! After re-ordering and finally sitting down to eat, we discovered that two of the other four sandwiches had not only been made wrong, one of them was missing the main ingredient!

Why did we have to wait to find out that one of the sandwiches wasn’t even available? Because there was no process on the assembly line (operations) to identify the breakdown and communicate it back to the customer. The “defect” just continued down the line until the entire order was ready for pickup.  The process was so internally focused that a potentially unsatisfactory outcome for the customer wasn’t detected until it arrived at the customer’s “front door.” In essence, the shop was forcing the customer to be the operational quality monitor – after the work had been completed and paid for! The organization’s internal value was fast production; the customers expected more accuracy and care. Clearly in this case, fast became slow as the meals had to be corrected.

OK; so it was only a sandwich…didn’t cost a whole lot and it was edible. Why should we care? Because this represents a breakdown in quality and concern for the customer. To us, it didn’t matter how quickly they could turn a meal if the meal wasn’t what we wanted in the first place. We received the wrong outcome in 3 out of 5 opportunities, a 60% disaster.

Some questions prompted by this event are worth reflecting on:

  • Where in our businesses do we have such internal focus that the value to the customer has been lost?
  • Where are we not connecting with the customer to ensure the process is delivering real value?
  • What odd ‘nooks and crannies’ have we not explored in our services and processes where there isn’t full alignment with our intended outcomes?

The real issue for any business, no matter what the product or service, is to have a completely satisfied customer. The value we initially perceived we were getting – speed and accuracy in delivering our order – unfortunately turned to both dissatisfaction and irritation.  And that’s how easy it is for a brand to get a bad reputation– something that all leaders, managers, and front-line folks need to consider when creating and implementing business processes.  Always remember to think of how these processes will affect customer ‘touch points’, or quite possibly a ‘lack-of customer touch points’.


About Steve Dorn

Steve Dorn, Director of Client Strategy, Pivotal Resources Inc., is responsible for helping Pivotal clients achieve their change objectives by outlining the most effective mix of solutions to deliver short and long-term results. A seasoned consultant and manager, he has strong expertise in helping leaders and organizations tackle critical strategic and tactical business problems.
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