So why can’t we do that?!

tesla-factoryI don’t know about you but ever since I was a kid I have loved watching short videos of manufacturing plants and staring in wonder at how the products we take for granted actually get made! It all seems so futuristic and alien.

Here’s a short (4 mins) yet amazing video showing the mind-boggling production of TESLA Model S cars over in Fremont, California.

What do you notice? Here’s what I see:

  • a large, high volume manufacturing plant;
  • an ultra clean and tidy environment;
  • ordered, smooth flow through specialised process steps;
  • consistency of operation and velocity;
  • substantial mechanisation & automation;
  • calm and assured humans working alongside the machines;
  • …with a high quality product coming out the end.

Sounds fantastic, I’ll have some of that!

…so why is it that service organisations don’t seem to get anywhere near the awesomeness that is modern day manufacturing?

Here’s the answer…..because they try to copy manufacturing!

“Hey, that doesn’t make sense…”

Surely (I hear you say) if manufacturing is sooo advanced from the times of Henry Ford and through Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System, then service organisations should be studying what they have done and applying it to their world?

And, indeed, that is what many (most) service organisations have done. But, in doing so, they have spectacularly missed a crucial point: Service is different to manufacturing and therefore they have been ‘solving the wrong problem’.

Here’s a fundamental John Seddon quote with regards to service:

“Service differs from manufacturing. There is inherently more variety in customer demand….Whilst the Toyota method was developed to solve the problem of how to produce vehicles at the rate of customer demand, in service organisations the problem is how to design the system to absorb variety.”

Going back to the TESLA factory, notice how each car being made is essentially the same. Now I know that there is some variety – different colours, different engines, different trim levels – but it is basically the same (modular) product. I also know that Taiichi Ohno’s Toyota Production System brilliantly worked out methods to deliver this limited variety within the one production process (as opposed to requiring separate lines).

Much of manufacturing has adopted the mantra of ‘specialise, standardise, centralise and then automate’….but this is just about the opposite of what would be good for a customer requiring their very specific needs to be met for a service.

Let’s carry on with the car example but move on down the process to the service end – the selling, distribution and servicing of the car.

Let’s assume that TESLA’s competitor, TRAGIC, has applied the manufacturing mantra to their car service processes.

TRAGIC has created a centralised and highly automated ‘contact centre’ and separate ‘service centre’, both of which are broken up into highly specialised teams with standardised processes.

  • you will be directed to a website on which it is nigh on impossible to find out what you need to know, let alone a way of contacting a human being for a conversation;
  • …assuming you do find a contact number, you will then be punished by a multi-layered IVR that doesn’t have an option that meets your specific need;
  • you will have a standardised ‘scripted’ conversation with someone who doesn’t seem to be allowed to help you with your actual needs…but who can transfer you to [insert name of another department here];
  • you will then be passed around a number of specialised departments as they all ‘pass the parcel’;
  • you will be allocated to a ‘back office’ work queue and will have to repeat everything you have said so far to whomever is allocated your ‘ticket’…and they will likely disagree with whatever the person before them said to you along the lines of “oh no, I only do this” or “no, they don’t know what they are talking about, we can’t do that for you”;
  • you will talk with people who have a standard time slot allocated to you (or at least an ‘average handling time’ target), who will ask you standardised questions, categorise you according to limited drop-down boxes in their computer and then allocate you to defined ‘solutions’;
  • you will be confused as to who is actually dealing with you (or who even cares);
  • you will spend time and effort chasing up what is happening;
  • you will be provided with a standardised solution which either doesn’t meet (or only partially meets) your needs;
  • ….you will be forced through the whole sorry process again (and perhaps again) as you struggle to get your actual need resolved.

The Point:

In service, the customer comes in ‘customer shaped’. Our job is to design the system so that it can absorb their variety, not frustrate it.

Beware the manufacturing mantra of ‘specialise, standardise, centralise and then automate’.

Toyota and automation: I know that the TESLA factory looks like it’s been taken over by intelligent robots…but don’t get too carried away with automation in manufacturing. It’s worth noting that:

  • Studies have shown Toyota factories to be significantly more efficient than their competitors despite being less automated;
  • Toyota is wary of ‘over automation’ and has been reported to be reducing/ removing some automation in preference to human beings carrying out the work.

Their rationale? Putting to one side the enormous cost of developing, buying, installing and maintaining robotics, a robot simply does what it is programmed to do. Contrast this with a human that can think about the process they are performing and continually look for ways to improve it.

This can be the difference between static and dynamic processes…but of course this is only relevant if the human is in an environment that motivates them to continually improve what they do.

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