Thursday, September 24, 2009

How 'little ideas' can make a BIG difference when times are tough

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Recently I had the good fortune to perform an assessment on a division of a large financial organisation for the Customer Service Institute of Australia (CSIA). As both a Senior Assessor with CSIA and through our our own OTM Service Strategy I have had the opportunity to observe many organisations who are striving to deliver great service to their customers.

More and more organisations have recognised the importance of treating their staff as their Number 1 customers (see the blog Providing Great Service Means That Your Staff Come First, Not Your Customersposted on http://studentsthatmatter.ning.com) and there is a strong link between that approach to employees and the provision of great service. I also observed a number of terrific little practices that have produced significant cost savings and efficiencies for the organisation's with whom I have been working.

The team from the financial organisation that I assessed last week shared a couple of significant results from implementing 'little ideas'. Last year the staff in the call centre were required to complete eight weeks of overtime leading up to the end of financial year. With 120 staff in the Call Centre that creates a significant salary overhead. This year only one weekend of overtime was required to complete the same amount of work with the same number of staff.

A serious question is, "How did they create such a remarkable efficiency improvement?".

There were two 'little ideas' that drive the response to this question. The first was that over the past year they have created a work allocation system that more evenly distributes work, including ensuring that the work performed by the more senior staff in 'coaching' other staff is recorded as 'real work' for the coaches. In the past this work was not recorded as 'real work' for the more experienced staff so their system included a dis-incentive for experienced staff to share their knowledge. As part of a continuous improvement program where staff submit suggestions, a simple idea to change the system so that the 'coaches' were recognised for their 'coaching' significantly changed the behaviour of those people. The resultant behavioural change also meant that less experienced staff started to access knowledge far more quickly than they had previously been able to access existing knowledge. The result was that new staff were more quickly gaining the right knowledge at the right time which enabled them to become more efficient in their work.

The second 'little idea' that has caused a major efficiency improvement for the team was as simple as pressing a button. Through the continuous improvement program that the Call Centre has created for its staff, one of the team members noticed that each of the 120 computers in the Call Centre took five minutes to 'boot up' at the start of each day. There are a number of security firewalls that cause the slow boot-up time but these are considered necessary by the institution for security purposes. One of the staff who arrived early every morning decided that while her computer was 'booting up' she would spend the five minutes walking around and pressing buttons until all the computers were activated, rather than staring blankly at her screen.

This meant that when the other staff arrived all they had to do was log in and they could commence work immediately. If you do the math and multiply 119 computers by 5 minutes, by 5 days by 50 weeks you will discover that it adds up to over 14.3 days of extra productivity over the course of a year. Two little ideas, one big saving.

The key factor in these examples is that the organisation has created a culture where submitting ideas is considered normal. I was also shown a number of ideas that have 'not grown legs and won't be implemented' and management is happy about that. From their perspective if two little ideas each year can produce such a significant benefit, then the system is working above expectations!

Another interesting perspective on this story is the way that a downturn creates innovation, if you let it. While I wasn't provided a statistic from this organisation to support what I am about to say, my suspicion is that there a number of people still working in the call centre who might not have their jobs if the efficiency improvements had not occured. When you consider the human impact that losing your job in a downturn can create, that is a significant benefit not only for the organisation but the staff as well.

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