Lean Six Sigma: The Wrong Way

Mark was both excited and proud to be selected by the senior management to become the company’s first Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. Having achieved his Black Belt he now sat across the desk from the company’s Operations Director. “Well done, Mark, achieving your Lean Six Sigma Black Belt is a great accomplishment. We need your expertise to help with our call centre problem specifically the returns process. Our call handlers are spending too much time on the telephone and this is costing us money.” said the Operations Director.

Mark got to work setting up an improvement team consisting of call handlers from the returns process along with someone from outside the process. Using DMAIC and various improvement tools Mark and his team began analysing the process. They collected the data and found that the call handlers for the returns process were on the telephone for an average of 20 minutes per customer. What really got their attention was the range. The minimum time for a returns call was 5 minutes and the maximum was 30 minutes.

“We have a great opportunity to bring this time to around 5 minutes.” said Mark.

“The problem, Mark, is that our CRM system is so slow at times and there is so much unnecessary information we need to input, but I guess you get that with an off the shelf product.” said one of the call handlers.

The team brainstormed possible solutions and after much analysis, they concluded that the call centre IT infrastructure needed upgrading and the CRM software needed to be redesigned for the purpose. Mark was aware that many organisations automatically jumped to IT solutions, but in this case it was necessary.

Mark presented his findings to the senior management team.

“Mark, let me get this straight you’re suggesting an upgrade to our IT systems and a redesign of our CRM software? Am I missing something here? Your job was to find a way to solve the problem and reduce the costs, not suggest more costs.” said the Operations Director.

“Mark, I suggest you re-evaluate your findings and come up with a better alternative. If not I’ll find someone else.” said the Operations Director, while he wrote in his notepad before he looked up at Mark.

“Guys, we really need to help Mark out. We can’t let anything happen to him. Can you think of a way to cut the call times?” said one of the call handlers. “I do.” said another.

Over the next few weeks, the returns calls started to significantly drop in length. Mark had no idea why so he went to get the team together and find out what’s been happening. As Mark left his office, he bumped into the Operations Director. “Mark, I’ve seen the results whatever you’ve done has worked. We’re all in a team meeting now and we need you to pop in and update us.”

Moments later the senior management team were congratulating Mark on a splendid job. “Now that you’ve successfully reduced the call time, we can reduce the call centre staff by 10%.” Mark felt sick. After his Lean Six Sigma Black Belt training he wanted to make the company a better happier place.

Disoriented and deeply saddened Mark left the meeting and purposely walked through the call centre. A million thoughts ran through his head and he wanted to look the people that may lose their jobs straight in the eyes. He glanced round the call centre wondering what their lives were like outside of work and what they would do when they received the news. Would they blame him? As he scanned the room he noticed the most peculiar thing. On some calls the call centre staff would hang up the telephone immediately after answering it. He quickly realised they were doing this to reduce the overall call time. Mark knew what would happen next.

Since their creation, improvement methods such as Lean Six Sigma have been used to cut costs and reduce staff. However, this was never their purpose. In fact, respect for people is one of the foundations of continuous improvement.

In the above example, it is clear to see that respect for people wasn’t a factor. Mark was given an impossible task with a punishment if he was unsuccessful, the call handlers were seen as expendable and no respect was given to the customers. While a shorter call time would have saved call costs and time, no consideration was given to benefits of speaking to customers for longer, especially as they want to return a purchase. Senior management need to have a more strategic approach with focus on maximising the customer experience rather than short-term cost cutting. What good is saving half a million pounds when it’ll cost you one million pounds in lost sales due to poor service?

Continuous improvement is a culture not an exercise. If you’d like to learn how to start your continuous improvement journey you can read more here. Alternatively, you can leave a comment below or give us a call.

By | 2016-08-11T17:02:32+00:00 August 11th, 2016|Articles|0 Comments

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