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Do your business processes enhance your customer service? Without getting too deep into the Customer Experience (CX) methodology, can you answer some simpler questions from a customer standpoint: Are we easy to do business with? Do we provide enough information so you (our customers) can make decisions you're confident in? Do we provide a positive experience? Are you happier after the interaction? Defined and optimized processes can go a long way toward answering these questions with a "yes" answer, but setting up your systems to provide your customer facing team with the right tools and data can be the details that make the process a positive one. I recently had a client in the Distribution world that was having a problem with their part data. This was a small company that has a few employees and everybody does a bit of everything. Their main software system is Quickbooks Pro, which has the ability to have 3 users, and during business hours when they take orders over the phone, these three licenses are in use for estimate/invoice entry. Typically, when a customer calls, they want to know three things: Do you have the item I want? What does it cost? How long will it take to get it here? In the Invoice screen of Quickbooks, if you don't have the quantity desired, Quickbooks will display a dialog stating so. Your price is automatically populated from the Item data. (along with the Customer discounts) The shipping time was calculated in the UPS Worldship screen (along with shipping charges). So when the order's items were in stock, the customer was generally satisfied. But, what if the items weren't on the shelves? Typically, "Uh... We'll have to call the supplier and order some more and see how long that will take. I'll give you a call back when I get the answer." The best case is that they ship other items on the order and get with the supplier pronto to get the answers to the initial customer query. Another outcome is the customer says "hold off on everything until you know the answer." The worst outcome of that is while you're calling your supplier, the customer is calling your competition and ordering the items there.... This client was used to ERP systems in their previous life, with Safety Stock (Reorder Point), Min/Max, and Lead time data available. The question to me,  "How can we make Quickbooks more ERP-like?" Here's what we did. In the Item screen, we added two Custom Fields. One for Lead Time (in days) and another for Min Buy (in eaches). We added these fields to both the Estimate and Invoice templates in use, adding them to the Columns tab for the Screen only. Then we did an Item Listing report, dumping it to Excel and adding two columns, for Lead Time and Min Buy, and worked with the vendor base to get this data populated, along with current costs. While we were at it, we looked at the previous 18 months of Item usage (Sales by Item Detail) and used this data to update the Reorder Point field. Some of these purchased Items were used in parent Items (assemblies). We updated the costs of each assembly (they were an Actual Cost company) based on the updated component costs. AND for each assembly, added the longest lead-time of the components to the build time, and updated the Assembly lead time. This allowed the team to better tell the customer when an OOS (out-of-stock) item could arrive, while they were on the phone. They also started tracking OOS item data more precisely to gauge the Reorder Point settings effectivity.  While it's still early, a few customers did remark they were happy they didn't need a call back to get time data. The customer had the data they needed to make a decision quickly, without waiting for another call back. It's also made the teammates taking the order more confident in the system's ability to help them service the customer.  Taking the time to set your processes & systems up for success, before the transactions take place, should benefit your customer satisfaction and set your business up for success as well! Let's get started today!
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Continuous Improvement Systems, eh? How do you define “continuous improvement?” Well, continuous improvement is a climb, not a destination. Great, you’re thinking, another one of these “we’ll never get there” type of things. Kind of like “Total Quality”, or “Zero Defects”. Yeah, we want that, but every time we do something, there’s more to do... Just don’t have the patience for these things…. I get it. While “Continuous” infers “never”, it also infers “iterative” and “incremental,” which is what I’m prescribing. Make small improvements that make an impact in smaller areas and can be built upon. “Yeah, we want to be the best Widget maker in the world, but right now we’d settle for a 10% time savings per widget.” Or “I know QuickBooks can print checks and envelopes, but I don’t have the time to figure out how to do that.” (Because I’m writing checks!!) But how do we do that and still get the everyday things done? You do have to stop and define an achievable goal, but then you’ve got a couple of choices on how to get there: Goal-oriented vs. Current/Future Some improvement advocates propose they don’t care where we were before, they only care about the goal, like: “Yeah, 200 years ago, this was a swamp. Now it’s a struggling business that needs to improve it’s fulfillment rate.” This camp also doesn’t care about “Before and After” pictures, with the thinking, “Would someone seeing this place for the first time care how far you’ve come?” Think of the Parent, Coach, or Manager who NEVER seems happy. Nick Saban is the coach of the University of Alabama football team. After winning one of his multiple National Championships on a Monday night, his on-field interview answer was something like, “we’ll enjoy this tonight and tomorrow, and then Wednesday we’ll start working on getting another one (championship) next year.” What are we going to do next? How are we going to fix this? What are you going to do to solve this problem?  If your team can take it, this mindset may provide the unrelenting desire for improvement, and the focus on the "next big thing". Most of the other advocates are of the “Current/Future” camp. You’ve got to know where you are in order to get to where you want to be. They focus on the process to get there, and generally four points: Define the steps to get “there” Measure the work to “there” Identify when we are “there” Reflect if “there” is good enough. This mindset can also show your team they ARE making progress, and keeps them motivated to achieve the next goal. Regardless of which camp you’re in, there are still methodologies to performing the work to achieve the goal. I’ll write about a few of these in a future post. It’s remarkable how similar they are. Focus on smaller goals toward an overarching goal. The tools I use revolve around the PCDA loop iterations until the smaller goal is achieved. At some point, then, you’re going to be satisfied with the sum of the improvements that continue the climb! That's my definition of "Continuous Improvement." Let's see how we can improve your systems!
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