In Lean Thinking, traditionally not much has been said regarding the customer’s emotions; except for a bit here around “Voice of the Customer” and a bit there on “Customer Satisfaction”. Other than that, not much else regarding emotion is mentioned.
This is unfortunate because, at bottom, if we are to improve how business is done, we must pay attention to the process and the feelings of the customers that interact with those processes. Doing so gives practitioners of continuous improvement a broader picture of how customers are feeling, as well as the steps they are doing when engaged in a process.
Hard Nosed Science
Lean Thinking is typically focused on measures such as volume, productivity, costs, lead time, cycle time, wait time, variation, defects, warranty claims, customer contacts, and the like. But, behind many of these metrics are customers – people that have feelings and experience a process in a qualitative way.
For example, one might be interested in reducing wait time in an emergency room setting. The typical approach is to identify all the process steps, which ones are value-add and not-value-add, then eliminate the non-value-added steps. Perhaps there might even be a capacity analysis done, balancing the incoming patient volume with the capacity to care for those patients. Maybe, there might even be some work around identifying demand and balancing the pace of care to Takt. All typical approaches from a Lean practitioner.
And, the approach works.
But, do you notice anything missing?
There’s typically no regard for the feelings and the high and low emotions of the customer. In this case the patient. Instead, we get a very mechanical approach to improving the process.
Granted, the process works. But, it’s somewhat nearsighted in its approach.
Why Should We Care About Emotions
Yes, what might seem so obvious still has to be asked. Why? Because in practice, there’s very little attention paid to the feelings of the customer.
So, why should we care about the emotions of the customer? Here are a few reasons:
- “Customer Satisfaction”, as a metric, is an emotional one. “Satisfaction” is a judgment that a customer makes and that judgment is based on a feeling, memory, or an emotion. It is almost never mechanical in its nature, and is almost always qualitative.
- Emotions can cloud the facts. For example, suppose a highly efficient process, where minimal effort is made by the customer to achieve a desired outcome. Most Lean practitioners would be happy with that. But, suppose that the customer was treated poorly during her interaction in a process that is otherwise highly efficient. What will the customer remember? Will the customer reflect – “wow, that was an efficient process” or “the process was efficient, but they made me feel bad.” The net result of this experience is a bad one and, while the process was optimized, the qualitative experience of the customer was poor. Emotion will always rule Logic.
Here’s a picture of what I’m trying to describe:
In the picture above, there is often a linear relationship with the number of touches or process steps, with what Lean practitioners would consider value add or waste. Generally, the more process steps, the more waste a process has.
But, that’s not always how customers view the world. In fact, the nature of emotions are such that they are high and low and, often times, we don”t know or can point to anything that caused that emotion. In other words, emotion is often not linear.
In fact, the graph to the left could be happening as the same time the graph on the right is happening – one describing how the customer feels, and the other describing the details of the process. Both can be true at the same time.
The Link is Customer Experience
There is definitely a place for emotion in the toolbag of Lean practitioners. The link here is in the Customer Experience. Being able to do the mechanical aspects of continuous improvement coupled with the an understanding of the delicate and often unarticulated qualitative experience can present a very powerful approach to process improvement.
In my next post, I’ll propose a way to include the variable of the customer emotion and show how it is relevant to practitioners of continuous improvement.