Thoughts About The Evolution... Or Lack Of Evolution Of Operations During COVID 19 Pandemic

These days, during the COVID 19 pandemic, things have become difficult for a lot of businesses, with a reduction of their demand, need to work from home, and having to find ways to keep their staff busy with some productive activities. However, as these same businesses have extra human resources, isn't it a good opportunity to think about our operations and try to innovate to improve customer service, ease the operations and get ahead of the competition?

I would like to reflect on an experience I had with a bank and think about what could be done differently.

An experience at the bank

A few weeks ago, as I needed to open an account, I contacted some banks. While some of them were not answering emails, nor returning phone calls, I finally managed to get in touch with one. After an email exchange in which I had to ask the right question for him to give me the right information, I booked an appointment, COVID 19 obliges, as they cannot open accounts remotely. Due to conflicting schedules and the fact that they can take appointments in one outlet only, it was booked for 2 weeks later.

The day of the appointment comes, and I hop on a tram for a 45-minute ride to get to the outlet, where I arrive a few minutes early. The place is locked. Being just before 2 PM, I wait thinking they might just open at 2 PM after a break, although no information is displayed. Indeed, at 2:05 someone opens the door, lets me in, and asks me to wait, while he informs his colleague.

As I wait, I am hearing someone on the phone explaining to a client that he cannot do anything for him, he has to use the app or the website to do the operation, whatever operation that might be.

Then someone else rings the bell, the same person comes and explains that he cannot do anything for him and he tells the person to call the number to book an appointment. It is 2:10, he asks me whether I need help, which I do. Well, it appears that his colleague who was supposed to tell him that his appointment had arrived, had failed.

But I finally get in and seat down, just to be asked what brought me. As we had a clear exchange of emails, I thought he would be aware of the reasons for my appointment, but apparently not... So I explain. To which he says that we cannot open the account as I do not have the documents I was supposed to have, which no one told us about.

So I went back for another 45 minutes of public transport the other way, having achieved nothing. Does that sound familiar to you? Is it common in banks and other service industries? Have you ever experienced such a non-value creation customer experience?

What's wrong with that - an operational perspective

So let's analyze that for a moment to see what is wrong with that experience, as obviously a lot of wastes are created here.

Just take the bank employee I had a meeting with. He had three customers in 20 minutes, and to all three customers, he had to explain that he could do nothing for them. He created no value in those 20 minutes and ended up wasting his customer's time. Not his fault, just a fact.

Then, take my situation. I have spent the time to explain on email what was required and get the right (so I thought) information, then to book an appointment. A good 2 weeks were lost as waiting time before the appointment, an hour and half of transportation back and forth, I waited in front and at the bank to finally get an appointment which created no output at all for any of the party. I lost that amount of time to be working, or to be spent with my family, or to go buy our favorite cheeses at that great store around the corner of our house.

The wastes are pretty clear here, with waiting, transportation, overproduction, and defects, and potentially some wasted talent. Could part of the process be done remotely, in a 15 minutes online process allowing the customer to check for the right documents and allow for adjustments? Or even have a ready to use check-list, or explanatory note sent to the customer, explaining what is needed for the online process? And even go for an e-signature system potentially?

Obviously, I will not look at any regulatory aspects of the banking system here and these are only a few ideas and suggestions, which some banks do implement already.

Maybe the bank should also listen more closely to the voice of the customer. As the employee is attending to customers to tell them he cannot help and creates overproduction waste, customers do not get the value they are looking for.

So what can we/they do about it all? Towards operational excellence through continuous improvement

Can we take the opportunity of this pandemic to reflect on what we can do to simplify our operations? Nowadays, we have a lot of means and resources, which are and can be a great support to our operations, but sometimes we need to think more simply, especially for service organizations. While we all understand the necessity to cut short-term costs and adjust to the current pandemic, some can surely take advantage of that to rethink how they operate, become more efficient to get ahead of the competition, get that competitive advantage to run better, leaner operations.

We should take this opportunity to listen to the voice of the customer, which in these times might be quite different from normal times. Start with what the customer want. Opening a bank account is certainly not a cutting edge advantage for a bank, it is the most basic service, which some banks offer for free and with a seamless experience. And the customer experience with the bank can become an advantage, as should the customer start on the right foot with its bank, he could become a long term loyal customer (I can imagine not changing bank on regular basis...). But customers want it easy and fast, involving as little administrative paperwork as possible, and certainly not being told they cannot be helped.

And all that could make a huge difference in the bank's ability to create value, to avoid wasting its employees' time and expertise in activities creating no outputs.

So what can we do? Well, there are no ready-made solutions here, but various actions can be taken. Considering the extra resources you have at the moment, which you need to manage somehow, select a team and task it to review your processes, being customer-facing - certainly the most important for customer satisfaction - or non-customer facing - which can be cost savings. Take advantage of that to test "what can be done remotely", which could become "what should be done remotely".

Follow your customer's journey, document every step, make sure you create visual management for your customers as they walk through their experience (not only the standard signs explaining how to wash your hands and keep a 1.5 m distance from each other). Visual management can be a powerful tool to guide your customers (or employees driving the process for instance) if it actually gives your customer valuable information about the services they seek. Keep it simple if you want them to actually read it, being on the website, at the outlet, or elsewhere.

Then collect the necessary information high enough in the process so you can detect issues and problems and avoid waste creation down the line for you and your customers. Make sure to include that information collected in your processes, and do not let your clients hanging not knowing.

You might also want to train your employees on how to identify the problems in your business processes as they run them and create a mechanism by which they can work on problem-solving technics and propose a solution, slowly improving each process a bit more each day.

This is a just quick summary with a few ideas thrown out here, and there are many others we could find. But the key message is that the COVID 19 pandemic, no matter how bad and difficult it is for everyone, can create opportunities to keep your employees, have them trained in process improvement while aiming at operational excellence. Employees can become the driver to your service through process management and process improvement, through continuous improvement, while developing cutting edge operations truly oriented towards creating for your customer the best experience they ever had.

If you have questions about continuous improvement or need any consulting services on that, please contact us.

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