At the root of all quality systems is a basic premise: develop a process, write it down, share it, train others and repeat it. Quality systems are essential in the manufacturing industry. The most widely known is the Toyota Production Systems (TPS) developed by Sakichi Toyoda and his engineer Taiichi Ohno. The system is known today as "Lean Manufacturing".
Franchises are examples in which a quality system is applied in order to create consistent "output". We can walk into a McDonald’s anywhere in the world and barely notice a difference. Quality systems have been adopted by all businesses and are no longer the domain of manufacturing alone: McDonald’s, JetBlue and Apple Stores are a few examples.
So where does the "system" break down? Human execution. Store design, uniforms and menus create the necessary visual framework for the system. But consistent execution is necessary for a positive customer experience. Written procedures, manuals and meetings do not develop employee behavior that is consistent with the value we promise to deliver.
We have good days and bad days. We have average days. The customer should never be able to tell. Is it a pie-in-the-sky dream to expect employees to be consistent? Should we allow a customer service representative to say, "I had a bad night at home, I don't think I ought to speak to customers today?” How often are we greeted with, "this call is recorded for quality purposes," and then wish that someone actually listened to the bad service we just received?
We can record every call, install mini-cams on the shoulders of each employee and program the phone system to detect a "nasty tone" and immediately put the call on hold. Adding tools to monitor employees' behavior has adverse results; tell an employee that you don't trust her and you may as well let her go.
So what is the answer to achieving consistent behaviors that complement your promise to deliver value and service? You start by asking a simple question: Are employees "happy"? Are they eager to come to work everyday? Why? Do they feel fulfilled when performing their function?
I visited Zappos last year. Yes, everyone seemed happy. I bought from Zappos. They were happy serving me. I returned shoes to Zappos. They made it simple and didn't penalize me or make me feel bad for having bad feet. They do this 24/7. It is possible and when you visit the company you understand why. For Zappos employees it is a not a job, it is a way of life. The cubicles are mini Zappos ecosystems. It is a home away from home, a place you spend most of your waking hours doing what you love to do: serving customers.
It is highly unlikely that Zappos can deliver 100% happiness each time. Yes, humans can have a really bad day that causes "inconsistent" behavior. But I am confident that even on a really bad day, a Zappos employee will still deliver happiness. It may not be their best, but it will be happiness, nonetheless.
To deliver a consistent customer experience that drives repeat purchases, employees must have ownership. Zappos employees have quotas, goals and incentives. The difference, and what delivers consistent experience, is accepting the responsibility willingly and doing whatever it takes to shine. Not because someone told them to do it.
Does your business deliver consistently? How do you know? Are you waiting for complaints to tell you something is amiss? What about customers who don't complain and just go elsewhere?
Here's the key: written procedures are essential. They should represent the outcome of a detailed conversation about what needs to take place in order to deliver value to customers (from how you answer the phone to how you package your product). They can serve as a basis for training new employees and a guide for everyone who needs a refresher course. Now comes the best part: encourage employees to be themselves. We don't want script-reading robo-reps. We want genuinely happy employees who love to serve customers. "We want every call to be answered on the 2nd ring and none higher.” Great. Now be yourself, get off script, enjoy the interaction and remember to deliver value. Always.
One more note on humans. We must recognize that not all employees are created equal. In other words, not everyone you interview is "wired" for ownership, accountability and self-generated happiness. The PIPO (punch-in, punch-out) crowd, is not interested in any of the above. With the right interviewing skills you can flush it out quickly. Drill down with "WHY" questions. Look for attitude that is primed for happiness: " I want to make a difference", "I thrive on making other people happy", "I need to be fulfilled".
Delivering value (happiness) is not a set-it-and-forget-it program. It requires continuous nurturing, adaptation and input from those in charge of delivery. Nothing is constant in today's business world. Your clients and prospects are the best source on competitors, trends and what you should do to differentiate yourself. Happy employees deliver consistent value that engages your clients. They will tell you what you are doing right, doing wrong or what you ought to do to beat the competition.