Tag Archives: marketing improvement

How much waste is there in the Service Industry?

Over the weekend a question was posed to me via Twitter (@theleanmanager if you’d like to follow) about the amount of waste (wasted time) in the back office of banks/service/insurance operations. Now I took this to mean the call centres, data processing centres, mail rooms, customer response teams etc.

The guys asking the questions @wisemonkeyash and @channingwalton  wanted to know could it be as high as 90%? (Update: we do know that in some legal firms the time to process matters is being improved by 50%, by using lean thinking, indicating that wasted time could considerable in the professional services sector.)

I decided I should expand upon my 140 character replies, which were based on my experience.

Variation of demand is the first factor to consider i.e. what does the busiest day (for demand, not completed work) look like and what does a quiet day look like and what are the patterns the peaks and troughs for the demand.

What causes this demand, the peaks and troughs? Our experience? it’s normally another part of the business which generates and stokes the demand and therefore changes here can reduce the peaks.

This could be letters with incorrect details, mass direct marketing mailing, customers chasing progress etc

This variation often causes capacity (people) to be 50% more than required to achieve the current results.

The implications here are that you can deliver improvement by changing something outside of the back offices, without changing what many individuals do – making continuous improvement more readily accepted.

Remember that so far we haven’t looked at the waste in the activities undertaken in these departments. Now as a lean person we look for the 7 hidden wastes, yes I know others have 8 or even 9 but we stick to the 7.

To give you just one example, have you rung a call centre, in the last 6 months,  to be told ” I’m sorry the system is a bit slow today”?

Sometimes that is genuine, the system is slow, it may be that the networking is slow or the server needs upgrading or the PC workstation is old. So say you have 50 agents handling 20 calls an hour? how much time are you wasting because the technology isn’t up to speed?

The more common reason for ” I’m sorry the system is a bit slow today”, that we see is that staff have two screens in front of them and they maybe running 4 different programmes at once. As the programmes can’t transfer information directly to one another, the staff take info from one system, send to their own e-mail, cut and paste it into another programme and then have to delete the e-mail.

This is just one example and adding up the rest we often find that 50% of the activity time is wasted.

What does this mean  overall?

If we start with 100% and 50% is waste due to Variation demand, this leaves 50%.

Of the remaining 50%, we reckon 50% is wasted time, so we get to the figure of 25% (50% *50%), or 75% of the work can be classified as waste.

Remember this is based on what we have seen, so not as high as the 90% the guys originally asked.

Within an hour I spotted this article all Aviva shakes up it’s Customer Service  from the FT, which shows the global serving UK based insurance firm Aviva put the waste figure in call centres as 60%.

It’s also worth noting that Aviva thought it was completing work in 5 days, in reality it was taking 39.

How can this happen? well sometime companies split activities into discrete chunks and add up the time each chunk takes, assuming this equals the processing time. They forget the handoffs and delays that each happen between each activity. We’ve definitely seen office work with activities of an hour take over 10 days to complete in reality.

Okay there is a variation in the figures but should we split hairs on whether waste in offices is 50% as in the professional services firms or 60% – 75% for the back offices and call centres, the reality is that the waste appears to be relatively large, though maybe not as large as the 90% that started the question.

Do you have any views on what the waste could be?

About the Author;

Mark Greenhouse has been working on the application of Lean management in Legal and design led Manufacturing companies for the past 5 years. His own Lean journey started back in 1988 when he started study of Production Engineering. He’s applied lean in many organisation types, finance, call centres, banking, FMCG etc. Mark also provides lectures on operational management at Leeds University Business School.

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Do you REALLY listen?

Do you listen to the Voice of Your Customers? I mean really listen, not just to what they say but what they do and how it affects your business?

Could listening to the Voice Of the Customer (VOC) have saved a UK bank?

Back in autumn 2008, we highlighted the story of Norwich Union (Aviva, if you watch the adverts or are based anywhere outside the UK) who had just started a car insurance marketing campaign which we felt was a really good example of Lean Marketing.

WHAT WAS IT?

NU (Norwich Union) offered to give its potential customers a quote for car insurance and at the same time it would give prices from its competitors (using web technology) even if they were cheaper.

WHY?

We hypothesised that NU was testing similar work to that we talk about in Lean Marketing, in which we talk of Customer Value & Loyalty being built on three core foundations;

  1. Features & Benefits – what is it about your product/service that are the hygiene factors? what sets your product/service apart from the competitors?
  2. Brand – what does the brand say about how you’ll treat me as a customer? in these credit-crunch days, how much confidence do I have you’ll be here next year?
  3. Price – often “quoted” as the single reason customers buy from a company however it’s rarely the biggest reason!! (try testing people by asking what their competitors charge – if it’s that important surely they’d know?)

These foundations impact on the value customers place on the total package they receive and on their loyalty, the exact nature of the impact varies, depending on the industry. However we believe NU was saying if you value our Features and Benefits, trust our Brand then our Price is less important and we don’t have to be the cheapest in the market.

I can hear almost what you saying “but they’ll have lost potential customers”.

Almost certainly they have; there are consumers out there who buy the cheapest, but exactly what have NU lost?

Potential customers who were basing their purchase solely on price, so what would happen at the renewal of their insurance? they’d look for the cheapest supplier again. So NU would have invested (marketing & sales) resources in acquiring a customer, incurred costs setting up their details (operational resources), sending out policy document and packs (distribution resources) only to have that customer looking to leave after one year. This type of customer is probably less likely to have bought anything else from NU, the price was their largest consideration.

Contrast this with the customers they may get on their book with Lean Marketing? they are not so readily driven by price, these customers are also placing more value on the Features & Benefits and Brand offered by NU. So again a hypothesis, these customers are probably more likely to buy other products (cross sales) and more likely to stay with the company when it comes to renewal.

Result: the organisation removes one of the “7 Hidden Wastes of Marketing” – the waste of attracting customers who only buy one product once based purely on price! There is always someone else waiting with bigger and deeper pockets ready to compete on price.

Does it work?

Well the advert appeared to run for a couple of months, in Autumn 2008 and then stopped, now it is back and running again, a classic direct marketing test you could say.

We are summarising that the fact that it is back and running is because it worked;

  1. customers acquired by Norwich Union have proved to be more robust, less likely to cancel!
  2. more likely to purchase other Norwich Union products.

we can’t say that they are more likely to renew, the advert appears to have only been running for 7 months so far, we’ll know if this strategy stays past Oct/Nov later this year.

You may have also noticed that the UK price comparison (moneysupermarket, gocompare, confused.com etc) websites have started introducing new features that compare the product features and allow for feedback on customer experience (of the brand) – have they too realised that not everyone buys on price alone?

So could this help anyone else? even have saved a UK Bank?

Back in in 2006/07 HBOS (now part of Lloyds Banking Group) implemented a new mortgage strategy, prior to whch they commanded 21% of the new mortgage market. The strategy which was simple and not too dissimilar to NU’s, was that HBOS would no longer offer potential and existing customers different mortgages @ different prices.  There would be one group of prices and they would be priced to maintain a reasonable margin for the bank.

(In the UK most lenders had a policy of offering new customers introductory rates to entice them in these would rise at the end of a fixed period – though you could move and re-mortgage as a new customer rate with another lender.)

So what was the result? The HBOS share of the new mortgage market dropped 8% from 21% – or a 62% reduction – in a six month period. Other lenders retained their policy of offering great deals to new customers. HBOS on the other hand was offering not so great deals to new customers but offering better deals to its’ own customers coming to the end of their existing deal – to try and improve customer retention.

What were potential and new customers telling HBOS? over half (62%) of the customers HBOS could have expected to sell to, went elsewhere. Was it that

  1. The features and benefits of the mortgage weren’t compelling enough over those of it’s rivals?
  2. The brand wasn’t strong enough to convince these people to come to the company?
  3. Price became the primary factor in the decision making process – effectively customers saying “We’re that strapped for cash we need to watch every penny?”

This last one I find interesting – was it the first warning sign of the economic health of HBOS customers or even the housing market and economy in general?

It certainly should have highlighted that 62% of the customers on the existing mortgage book might not be interested in other products (cross-selling), they might only have bought on price alone. Or highlighted that the branding work and the features and benefits of the HBOS mortgages were not regarded as positively different enough by over half the market – the same conclusion could be drawn about the competitors. Remember these customers came to HBOS prior to their pricing changes.

Did HBOS listen? We’ve no idea, the only articles in the public domain talk of corrective pricing strategies that reversed the previous strategy and boosted their share of new mortgages back up to the 15-20% band.

Maybe HBOS did consider what their customers (existing and potential) were telling them, maybe they changed their features and benefits, maybe they changed their branding work, we’ve no evidence, they never said, maybe they considered all this and dismissed it.

Maybe they considered the shareholder customers above those who bought the product and services. (The share price dropped when HBOS admitted that their share of the mortgage market had dropped.)

If you realised that 62% of your market were

  • in financial difficulties
  • couldn’t discern product differences between providers
  • didn’t believe your brand offered a different experience?

What would you do differently?Listen, ask more questions, change what you do, stay doing the same, get out (let someone esle take the risk)…..

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Credit Crunch Answered by LEAN?

Does Lean Thinking have the answers to the pressures of the global credit crunch? maybe one company points to the answer!

TESCO the UK supermarket retailer announces rising profits, against the credit crunch backdrop. The TESCO group made profit before tax of £1.43bn in the 26 weeks to 23 August, an 11.3% increase on the same period last year. (source BBC)

Tesco has been using lean for many years, even before they introduced their Clubcard, so could the application of lean be critical to this success? here’s what their Chief Exec had to say about it?

Lean Thinking has been an enormous influence on my business thinking. It shows you how you can fundamentally transform your business” – Sir Terry Leahy, Chairman and Chief Executive, Tesco PLC.

(quote from Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation. James P. Womack & Daniel T. Jones)

did you think lean was only meant for manufacturers? maybe stretching to those with operational centres (call centres, back office processing centres etc) but not retailers?

So could lean help you and benefit your business? improved quality, reduced costs, more responsive organisations, engaged employees etc – share your view with us.

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Cheaper is the only way to sell? no, Lean Marketing in action!

Norwich Union (NU to those in the UK), or Aviva to the Rest Of The World (ROTW) is an insurer who amongst other things offers Car Insurance.

For years in the UK, car insurance, along with home insurance, has been sold based on price,

“Ring us we’ll match/cut your current renewal price”

“Call us and we’ll give all new customers a 20% reduction”

etc ran the mantra of the marketing blurb! A whole new industry of direct insurance aggregators and money/insurance supermarkets started up whose only real message was “come to us we’ll get you the lowest price”

Only a few years ago Direct Line (a Royal Bank of Scotland company) started to sell on the speed and quality of response and ignored the aggregators, they even tell you in their marketing they don’t quote via them.

Now NU have stated that if you renew through them, they’ll not only give you their price but those of their competitors, even if the competitors are cheaper.

Click here to see the first advert in the series and here to see the reply!

So what exactly are they saying? They (NU) will tell you the insurance price and if you can get it cheaper elsewhere, if you decide to go there then you are only buying on price. If you’re buying on price then you probably aren’t the type of customer they want as you’ll only churn later on – watch their retention rates improve!

True lean marketing in action – they have recognised that other parts of the service and the brand can justify a premium in the market.

You might ask how do they know the price of the other suppliers? potentially they have an aggregator system which they don’t offer to the public but use in their contact centres when you call, what they can also do is collect your renewal data and build a much larger contact base for other products.

Is this curtains for the insurance supermarkets and aggregators in the UK? focus on price and ultimately you too might only have one way to go!

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