Awesome! Well, Not Really

By on March 28, 2017
Awesome! Well, Not Really

Dolores and I were making our third trip to a retail outlet of this telecommunications industry giant. We were going there to upgrade Dolores’ iPhone. On our two previous visits we were told that the iPhone model Dolores wanted was not in stock. On each visit, an employee greeted us at the door and asked us questions about our account, why we were there, and recorded our answers on an iPad. Each time Dolores said that we were there to upgrade her phone to a new iPhone. And each time, the employee’s response was “awesome.”

On this, our third visit, I couldn’t hide my annoyance over our once again being asked the same set of questions. I asked, “Since as we answer your questions, you’re entering our responses into your computer system, why have you asked us the same set of questions three times this week?

He said, “I don’t know.” I thought, “That’s definitely not an ‘awesome’ answer.”

This time, the phone Dolores wanted was in stock. Before we could proceed with the transaction, I got a call from a client with an urgent request for information that would require my calling him back from my office. We told the salesperson that we’d be back in an hour to complete our purchase. He said “Fine, when you come in we’ll put you at the top of the list to be served.” I thought to myself, “that’s a nice touch, not ‘awesome’, but nice.

When we returned the person greeting us, as promised, put us to the top of the list to be served. After waiting about fifteen minutes, one of their salespeople approached us and asked, “Why are you here?

I told her that four times in the last week, we’d been asked a whole series of questions related to “Why are you here?” She gave us a blank stare. I continued, “Since each time we’ve entered your store, one of your associates has asked us the same questions and recorded our answers on their iPads, can’t you access your system and go to our answers?

She replied, “No.” I thought to myself, “This is definitely not awesome.”

Our determination to get the iPhone overpowered our anger and we proceeded, for the fifth time, to answer all the questions we had answered previously. I had begun to feel that the treatment Dolores and I were experiencing was some type of bizarre initiation rite which would, if we survived it, prove our worthiness to own an iPhone 7.

As we were concluding the transaction, I said to the sales associate, “Just out of curiosity, what will happen to the iPhone that we’ve just traded in?” She gave me a look of obvious disdain and responded, “I have no idea.

Before we left the store, one more question occurred to me and I asked her “Do two iPhones have to be connected to the same iCloud in order for the ‘Find my iPhone’ App to link the two phones?” By now she was anxious for us to just leave the store and responded brusquely, “I have no idea, ask Apple.” (I did. They do.)

I thought to myself, “What she said is definitely not awesome.”

So what’s there to learn from this comedy of errors?

As a Lean thinker and practitioner, it illustrated for me two of the most common, and most destructive, forces that are at work in all too many work environments.

First, the work processes I saw in action were incredibly flawed. They resulted in employees repeating the same tasks over and over again. Processes that could have been very crisp and productive were, instead, laborious and nonproductive. How did this happen? I suspect that over time what started as a simple interview became more and more complex, as management decided that more and more information needed to be gathered from customers. Apparently missing in this dynamic was any careful analysis of the degree to which what they were doing was building waste into the process. In addition, it was obvious that they had never carefully reviewed the utility of the information being collected. Finally, at some time in the evolution of this process, it must have been decided that iPads should be used to record the information being collected from customers. Frankly, based on the fact that the information being recorded in the iPads didn’t appear to be used, note pads would have been just as effective.

Second, it was obvious that the employees with whom we communicated were almost entirely disengaged from their work. While they were quite adept at going through the motions, their behavior was like that of actors who long ago became bored with the script. As a result, the lines they spoke like “Can I help you?” rang hollow. Dolores and I didn’t think for a minute that they were, in fact, interested in helping us.

Weak processes. Disengaged employees. A perfect formula for failure.

The Gallup Organization’s 2017 study entitled, “State of the American Workplace,” reports that while 33% of U. S. employees were engaged—committed to doing quality work and continually thinking about ways to improve work processes—that the majority of employees (51%) were not engaged and 16% were “actively disengaged.” In addition, as reported in many studies such as those conducted by Gallup, TowersPerrin, and others, there is a direct correlation between employee engagement and key indicators of corporate success such as employee retention rates, work quality, safety, productivity, and profitability.

This large telecommunications company whose annoying and nonproductive processes Dolores and I endured better pray that they continue to have customers as product driven as we were because without them they will be facing a very dismal future.

Dolores got her iPhone 7 and with it our determination to look around for other providers in the future.

It didn’t have to be that way.

All they needed to do was to recognize the importance of optimizing work processes and then to do it, using Lean tools such as Value Stream Mapping and others.

And all they needed to do was to provide training and coaching that would drive higher levels of employee understanding of the absolutely vital nature of one-on-one interactions with customers.

And all they needed to do was to create a work environment characterized by respect, trust, and candor, work place qualities upon which driving higher levels of employee engagement absolutely depends.

When these things happen, “awesome” won’t just be an overused expletive. It will be a fact.

St. Louis Community College’s Corporate Services Group has a wide variety of leadership, customer service, and Lean transformation training and coaching resources that can be put to work for your company now. These resources will help you optimize work processes and drive higher levels of employee engagement. The results? Improved customer satisfaction. Greater sales. Increased profits. I’d appreciate having the opportunity to discuss these resources with you. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s schedule a meeting. I’m confident you’ll find it time very well spent.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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