Did You Find Everything You Were Looking For?

Is there such a thing as too much customer service? The more I ponder this question, the more I believe this to be true. Sometimes organizations may go “over the top” to please the customer, but in doing so, they create the opposite effect. Here’s an example.

I usually shop for groceries at Thriftys because the store is clean, selection is good, it’s in my neighbourhood, and it’s not an overwhelming big-box-store. In the “old days” before Thriftys was purchased by Sobey’s, getting through the check-out line was no hassle and usually pleasant. What I’ve noticed since Sobey’s took over, though, is that cashiers are now asking more questions and it’s always the same questions. And when that first question comes out, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I cannot but picture a robot. It’s always the same opener. On top of that, there are what I consider to be really stupid questions. Why does the cashier ask me how I want my groceries packed and whether they should pack the bulky items and whether a full grocery bag is too heavy? Isn’t that their job to know how to pack groceries and to know that bulky items that don’t fit in bags don’t go in bags and if they’re asking me if the grocery bag is too heavy, it’s obviously too heavy? And, yes, I do want the meat wrapped in plastic and the cleaning supplies should be packed separate from food. Why would they ask me if it’s okay to not do this?

While I understand that Sobeys wants to ensure that their customers are ‘greeted’ and ‘treated’ with respect at check-out, too much really is too much. The cashier’s brief robotic conversation with me doesn’t deter from the cashier’s efficiency, but it does nothing to make me feel welcome or special. In some sense, I am left feeling annoyed that I have to answer the same questions every time I go through one of the tills.

Sobey’s, if you’re reading this, listen up: To improve customer service, let your cashiers determine whether conversation is necessary and what the conversation should be. I don’t need to hear the same mundane robotic quizzing each time I go through one of your tills. Drop the drill. Your customers will thank you for it. And don’t forget that the customer is always right – just remind yourself how you would like to be treated when you go through one of your own tills. Did you find everything you were looking for? Or would another line of questioning (if one is needed at all) be more natural?

Sometimes “less” really is “more” when it comes to customer relationships. Talk less, do more, and we all win.

The Big Lollapalooza: Exposed

Lollapalooza: an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or  event;
an exceptional example or instance.

When was the last time you experienced a lollapalooza? Well, these days it seems that Lean and Six Sigma are the big lollapaloozas, although Lean and Six Sigma are nothing more than common sense approaches for efficiency. And getting work done efficiently is never an exception to how organizations are (or should be) practicing. Along with effectiveness (doing the right job), efficiency is essential to ensuring productivity.

Efficiency has a long history, starting with scientific management in 1899 with Frederick Taylor’s industrial experiments to Edwards Deming’s Total Quality Movement (TQM) and influence on the Japanese following World War II, to Peter Drucker’s management philosophy in the 1980s and Concept of the Corporation, and, of course, many other influencers in between. Their goal was to enable individuals and organizations to do their best for the least possible cost and maximum gain. Efficiency can save you and your organization time and money, and sometimes in a big way. Let me give you an example.

Client X (not his real name) had a problem with the way his organization’s decentralized branches were managing and delivering services to their customer. Specifically, management felt that branches were duplicating work both within and between branches. One example I was given was that some branches were calling on each other to invite ‘guest staff’ from one branch to speak at another branch for the purpose of sharing vital information that the recipient branch could incorporate into their own processes. Client X clearly needed help.

The first step to solving Client X’s problem was to convene key staff in one room to create a value stream (flow) map of their processes. For this initial meeting, in person attendance was mandatory. Using sticky notes, staff wrote and illustrated each branch’s process(es). When all the sticky notes were posted on the wall, it was clear that branches were duplicating multiple steps that had no value to delivering customer service. In addition, for one process alone, there were six different methods for getting the job done. From here, staff wrote down the time required to perform each step. Then participants had an opportunity to pinpoint areas where delays and complexities were the greatest. With just a few simple improvements, they were able to eliminate 20 processes out of 40, streamline another 15, and reduce waiting time for their customers by 95%. Not bad for a couple of days’ work in the boardroom!

So did Client X and their staff have a “lollapalooza” moment? Sure, they probably did. My take on this, however, is that through Lean and Six Sigma concepts, efficiency and effectiveness have been re-invented in order to help a worldwide sagging economy. We needed something new, something trendy, so that people and organizations would stop throwing time and money away. If you haven’t jumped on the efficiency and effectiveness bandwagon, you must have money to burn.


Taming the Workaholic

Hi. My name is Mary and I used to be a workaholic.

Ever since I can remember, I would spend endless hours “doing.” First it was school projects, then work projects for my employer, and then in the 1980s when I started my own business, I spent endless hours working in, on, and for my business. And somewhere in between, I also spent countless hours volunteering for various associations, this on top of my already full work and family schedules. Why am I telling you this? Because along the way, I learned from experience and research that being a workaholic is not only counterproductive, but it can ultimately kill you or, at the very least, make you very tired and maybe even very sick. Here’s what else I learned.

Working more than 35 to 40 hours a week does not contribute proportionally to your productivity. In fact, studies have shown that industrial workers that worked eight-hour days produced the same amount of widgets as those that worked 10-hour days. However, occasional overtime can yield results, but the gains won’t be directly proportional to the time worked. For example, if the work week is extended by 50 percent, say from 40 to 60 hours, there would only be a 25-30 percent increase in productivity. This is because people typically do their best work between hours two and six of an eight-hour work day. After that, fatigue may affect productivity. In addition, if overtime is sustained over a long period of time, fewer productivity will result because of sustained mental exhaustion.

It turns out that factory workers may be able to turn out a fairly productive eight-hour day; whereas, knowledge workers are not as productive. Productivity for knowledge workers maxes out at about six hours a day (not eight). On top of this, research by the US military has shown that cognitive decline is equivalent to a .10 blood alcohol level with even just one hour less sleep per night. What this means is that if you’re not getting enough sleep, regardless if you’re a factory or knowledge worker, you may be making the same quality decisions as a person who is inebriated. Think about that the next time you show up for a full day’s work when you didn’t get quality sleep the night before.

Workaholics be aware: you are doing yourself and your organization a disservice. You will be far more productive sticking to a 35-to-40 hour work week. If you’re having difficulty adjusting down, speak to a coach or therapist and get back on track to getting your life back. You’ll be glad you did.



Tips To Remove Clutter From Your Workspace

Mary sheds light on easy ways to remove clutter from your workspace so that you are in the most productive work space possible.

Managing Your Email

Mary breaks down the harsh reality of time-wasting that happens daily in regards to email and shares solutions to help you manage it more efficiently and effectively.

The OHIO Method

The OHIO method (“Only Handle It Once”) has tremendous application in Lean processes. OHIO is also used effectively in the management of organizational records resources. Mary shares effective ways to apply the OHIO method to records.

Read more.

Ramping up Performance

Mary answers the question, “How can I improve performance?” Her answer is to automate processes, and she details how an organization can go about doing this.



Helping Organizations Become Agile

Mary shares her expertise on how organizations can quickly adapt to challenges. Becoming efficient, productive and effective are the keys!