So there’s a TV programme that I love called ‘How it’s made’. It takes the viewer through the manufacturing journey of a unit of production. An episode might focus on something small, like making a can of fizzy drink. Another episode might focus on something HUGE, like building a cruise ship…but there is a similarity within.
The other day I watched an episode that showed how a spanner was made (a ‘combination wrench’ if we are being techy). Watch it here (it’s only 5 mins).
Once you’ve watched it, I’d ask you to put yourself in the place of one of those wonderful spanners (call yourself Sammy if you like and have a think about yourself)….I did, and here’s what I thought:
“I’m just a spanner….
- I don’t have a brain
- I’m not purposeful – I just ‘am’
- I don’t have a genetic make-up passed on to me – I don’t have a mum and dad!
- I have no memory of my past experiences from which to form opinions
- I’m not capable of emotion
- I can’t respond to things that happen to me or make choices for myself
In short: I cannot think or communicate, which is ironic given that I appear to be writing this post J.
Further, all of this is relatively static – it doesn’t change over time…other than perhaps the ever-so-slow process of entropy as I likely corrode.
…and so, given this I really don’t mind that:
- my destiny (to be ‘that spanner’) is predetermined for me, and completely specified ‘up front’ by my makers…without any input from me;
- there is nothing unique/ special about me: I am treated exactly the same as every other ‘standardised’ spanner;
- I am bundled together with other spanners in convenient batches as and when my makers see fit;
- I am passed from process to process as my makers determine, for their benefit;
- I sit around (in piles) waiting for when the next process is ready for me
- which may be days or even weeks…in fact whenever my makers wish
- …and nothing really happens to me whilst I am waiting
- …and so on
Each process knows exactly what it is getting from the last one and knows exactly what to do (e.g. I will arrive at process ‘x’ as a blank and I will then have a hole stamped through me, ready for process ‘y’)
It doesn’t really matter what mood each worker on my production line is in, how they are presented…even what language they speak or views they hold. They will ‘process me’ and move on with their lives!
This arrangement may very well work out just fine for our Sammy the spanner…but now let’s turn our attention to service organisations (and service value streams):
If you go back to the monologue above and substituted a customer into the role of our hero, the spanner, you would find that all is most definitely NOT okay! Go on, take a short minute to do it – it’s a good exercise in realising how and why service and manufacturing are VERY different.
Treating customers as brain-less, purpose-less, emotion-less and lacking in memory is not recommended. “Fine” I hear you say ”….we’d never do that!”
But, now consider whether many (most?) service organisations:
- attempt to standardise customers into a service ‘straight jacket’;
- pass customers through rigid pre-defined processes (e.g. from front office to back office; through vertical silos of order taking – assessment – solution – payment and closure…and then ‘after care’)
- juggle customers between multiple members of staff (with no-one really taking responsibility);
- put customers into queues to process at the service’s convenience (perhaps using computers to elicit ‘data attributes to classify, sort, prioritise and schedule’*)
- treat the customer’s time and effort as free; and
- decide when the customer’s need has been fulfilled (rather than allow the customer to determine this for themselves)
* If that sounds awfully boring and techy, it’s meant to because that’s what computers are good at – algorithms, not people.
Now, you might yawn and say “Steve, you are on your ‘service is different’ band wagon again” and you’d be right! You might even point me at some posts that I have already written in a similar vein.
But the fact is that every single day we, as customers, experience service organisations treating us more like a spanner than a person. This likely causes huge frustration, failure demand and negativity towards the service being experienced.
I want a service organisation to understand:
- me: my context, situation, preferences; and
- my unique* need (because of my specific instance of variety)
Many a service has gone down the wrong path. It is time for them to wake up…
“No matter how long you have been on the wrong road, turn back.”
Do you sometimes feel like you are being treated like a spanner instead of a customer?
Conversely, if you work in a service organisation (or service value stream), what do you think your customers feel like?
A final reflection:
It’s worth considering the following quote: “In service, the best hand-off is no hand-off.”
I’m not saying that this is necessarily achievable…it’s more of a challenge towards which we should be pointing. At its most basic it is a sobering antidote to all those out there running in the other direction whilst chanting the ‘standardise and specialise’ mantra.