Are you “on demand” or “when we can” ? Enterprise 2.0 and the customer perspective

What does social software bring ? Nothing by itself (contrary to many others, a social app doesn’t process or treat anything but allow people to do things…) but since it makes some things more easy to do it should, in principle, help to improve performance and productivity for many kind of tasks provided people understand they have to slightly change the way they work (what does not means changing work fundamentals but only adjust a few things).

Most often, operations managers can’t see the concrete benefits. To do so they would need to take hindsight but they don’t have time and are too involved to. Consequence : top executives often have the vision while people who have their hands in everyday operations still wonder what problem this new things actually solve, why they’d need to socialize their work, share part of the information. Everyone know what a solution that solves no problem (or no problem people are aware of) is worth.

An approach that sometimes work is to ask managers to imagine themselves at the client’s place. Note that a client could either be an external client or an internal client. Their staff’s job is to meet the client’s need and their role, as managers, is to make sure they will, in the assigned time limit, without being directly in touch with the client. Furthermore, in many cases, managers have to get in thouch with clients only when things go wrong. It’s all the more easy to imagine oneself at the client’s place since everyone know how being a client is, either from internal or external providers. Sometimes, realizing that you do exactly what you don’t like your providers to do is a big step to progress.

Try to imagine, at least one second, that it would be possible to define the ideal sequence of actions and tasks, individual and collective, that would allow to fulfill the client’s needs, without any risk of failure. Everything would be perfect and we wouldn’t have been discussing how to improve collaboration, efficiency and many other things for years if not decades. The truth is that we’re very far from that. This premise of the perfect sequence dates from the holy times when M. Ford was promising a Ford T in any color provided it was black. In the goods industry has learned how to deal with colors, options etc since then to provide every customer with a fully customized good, the services industry lags far behind. There’s the rub : the characteristic of service is systematic personalization of what’ delivered : a given offer will materialize in two different executions and results for two different customers.

In practical terms : while there is “the official way of doing things”, each request from a client makes people get round it or adapt it. In concrete words : “I’m going to check with by boss/colleagues”. When ? “At our weekly team / reporting meeting next monday”. If the boss has to refer to his own boss / alter-egos the next time he sees them… Result : “I’m going to check and I’ll tell you if it’s possible and how…”. Does this remind you of something ? Never been told that ?

That’s why people in your staff spend their time asking you if they can fix process, get round it, and how (what’s irritating because you always feel as if your had to do their own job. More, that’s so time consuming…). And that’s the reason why providers spend their time telling you..”humm….wait…we’ll check”. And the time lost to search, answer, coordonate, connect people can easily be assessed.  Finding “who, what, how”, sometimes getting the authorization to use it is sometimes a burden. Imagine all the time wasted in a decision / execution process. Then at the enterprise scale. A tragedy in collectivie efficiency. No one can ignore what is a major issue for many businesses. Not only the usual evangelists are saying so, but the Wall Street Journal too. And the big difference with models imported from other industries and applied to services is that services need real time not to slow the process down.

As a matter of fact, the goods industry fixed the issue using alternately or jointly two things : reversing flows (pull instead of push) and building inventories. The duet makes it possible to face two challenges : personalization and immediate availability. Talking about services, enven if the flow can be reversed, it’s, of course, impossible to have inventories. So it’s impossible not to slow the process down since services are personalized by nature.

Are we sure ?

What’s inventory ? Something that is produced regardless to any demand or need (or according to a forecast) in order to be sure to have enough in case it’s needed. Too much inventory is bad for any business, but a well managed buffer inventory is the best way to prevent from service discontinuity. Applied to our problematic, it would imply to build an inventory of knowledge, expertise, know how and people il order to help oneself without having to ask and consume resources (ie people’s time).

In a former post, I wrote about bulding easily a social routine, not by changing everything but by building it around existing activities, following this diagram

Social routine

Would this help to build the inventory that prevent the process and execution from slowing down ? I let you judge.

What is sure is that, even in the service industry, who would content with providing “we can” will be irremediably outclassed by who will adapt his organization in order to be as “on demand” as possible. And whoever complains about provider’s lack of responsiveness should understand he has to solve his own issues.

Something ironic : since the goods industry learned from its limits, services are still applying old models from the goods industry to activities that does not lend themselves to it and will, once again, have to check “on the other side” what’s happening. The good industry old school ? Think twice. It’s the one who is sometimes the more innovative in termes of organization and production. Myths die hard.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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