You Can't Improve If You Think You Are Perfect


Let’s suppose I am a bit of an amateur mechanic and I like to take care of my own car repairs to the extent that I can. Now let’s suppose the water pump on my Buick goes out on a sunny Spring Saturday morning. (Yes, I own a GM product. As much as I admire the manufacturing and business models at Toyota, Honda and especially Subaru, and as much GM bashing as I do in the blog, I unapologetically buy American. Always have – always will.) So I head to the local auto parts outfit to buy a new one.

Once there I am told that the part for my car is not a stock item and they can order it. It will arrive in five days - on Thursday. Now, I am not particularly happy about that but I don’t really have much of a choice. The morning is whiling away and I don’t know that it will be any better at another store, so I say OK. Thursday it is.

So the customer request was Saturday – today. The Promise date is Thursday. Of course, they had better come through for me on Thursday. I am not particularly happy about not getting the water pump now, but I will really be unhappy if they don’t keep that commitment.

But it would be a big mistake for them to only measure their On Time Delivery to their promise date, and not to my request date. If they were to do that, assuming the water pump is there on Thursday, they would roundly pat themselves on the back for a job well done, completely oblivious to the fact that next time I plan to call around and check with other auto parts places before going to them.

No doubt the auto parts guys would say that my expectation of having every part for every car in stock is unreasonable – and they are probably right. But that doesn’t change the fact that I wanted the part on Saturday but did not get it until Thursday. Whether the company changes its supply chain policies and processes or not it is essential to know whether the current processes are meeting customer needs and expectations.

If the auto parts guys had metrics telling them they are 99% on time to their promise dates, but only 70% on time to customer requests, there is a possibility of them coming up with process improvements that will increase the 70% rate and satisfy more customers. If they do not measure it, however, and look only at their stellar 99% success rate of the process designed around their internal view of things they are unlikely to even know that they should be thinking about improving their processes.

And in my case, they will never know why I quit shopping at their store and switched to a competitor with better availability. Given their narrow view of things if they think about why they lost me as a customer at all they will probably attribute it to price – I must have found a cheaper competitor. They will never know it was about delivery because their metrics tell them their delivery performance is darn near perfect.

The point is that you have to measure yourself – everything about yourself – through the eyes of the customer. It doesn’t matter whether the customer is reasonable – or even sane. It doesn’t matter if the customer expectations are ridiculous and impossible to meet within the capabilities of your current processes. You are not very likely to put much effort into trying to improve if you think you are perfect.

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