When touchpoints become painpoints, it’s time for a Muda, Mura and Muri intervention.

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Not all service and experience-based propositions are created equally – many undoubtedly “get the job done”, and are generally worthy of positive reviews and the occasional 5-star ratings. However, far too many can seem utterly illogical or “painful” in the eyes of external and internal customers alike. While organizational apathy and poor design may be natural suspects, many of the pure-play services, value-added services, product-service systems and other service and experience-based propositions that exist today likely originated with pure intent and thoughtful design.

However, due to financial, competitive and operational necessity, coupled with the ever-evolving needs of customers, many have been put together in ad hoc ways, making them unintentionally cumbersome, costly to deliver, and increasingly incapable of meeting today’s elevated experience-based standards. The wide-scale “bolting-on” of digital technologies, both as “fixes” to broken or antiquated journeys, and as entirely new touchpoints, has only intensified the frustration and effort that many customers experience, and the friction that employees encounter when delivering those propositions.



HEAR IT FROM HORST #1:

Customer service isn’t just for those who face the public…it also extends to people inside an organization who deal with each other.

— CX words of wisdom from Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. &
Author of “EXCELLENCE WINS: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.

THE ROOT OF IT ALL.

These dynamics illustrate some of the root causes of the negative sentiment, excessive customer effort, and deeply-held frustrations that generate passionate brand detractors and poor business outcomes. With customers who suffered a bad interaction 50% more likely to share it on social media than those who had good experiences (Source: Dimensional Research & Zendesk), the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Making strides to close these service quality, consistency, technical and experience gaps presents a compelling opportunity for customer-centric businesses and brands to positively change the narrative, demonstrate authentic empathy, and build reservoirs of good-will with customers and employees along the way. For those aspiring to be customer-centric service and experience leaders, systemically identifying and mitigating visible deviations — defects, errors, gaps, dislocations and other failure modes — and rooting out of the ones that are less visible, has become an urgent priority with implications across the organization.

WHAT CX LEADERS AND BEST-IN-CLASS SERVICE BRANDS DO.

As operational, customer-facing, revenue-generating assets, it’s rarely feasible to simply redesign, reimagine and relaunch existing service and experience propositions from a clean slate. Following the practices of perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands, customer-centric organizations overcome this issue by adopting a continuous improvement philosophy built around 1) a broader “ecosystem” view, and 2) the art and science of removing systemic deviations -– Muda (waste), Mura (unevenness), and Muri (overburden) – The “3Ms” in the parlance of lean thinking and the iconic Toyota Production System (Source: Lean.org). This reference is particularly instructive for businesses and brands in industries, such as retail, autos, healthcare, life-sciences, hospitality and others that are facing intense structural dislocation, technological disruption and hyper-competitive pressures.

WHAT LEADERS CAN DO TODAY: LOOK BEYOND THE OBVIOUS.

On the essential journey to continuously identify and mitigate systemic deviations — Muda, Mura and Muri — it is critical to first understand the network of interconnected and interdependent elements that represent the universe of service and experience propositions, frontstage and backstage interactions (physical, digital, mobile, etc.) and touchpoints that make up end-to-end customer and employee journeys. Establishing this “ecosystem view” is where your customer journey maps, service blueprints, and business model canvases come together to enable a more holistic exposure of the underlying mechanics (e.g. inputs, outputs, dependencies, and influences , etc.) that drive actual service quality and customer experience outcomes.

HEAR IT FROM HORST #2:

Sometimes what the customer wants may seem completely self-evident…. If you don’t look deeper, you will miss important signals. You may, in fact, even wind up responding against what your market is craving.

— CX words of wisdom from Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. &
Author of “EXCELLENCE WINS: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.



In practice, through this ecosystem view, a broader range of systemic deviations can be exposed in context, informing design and improvement interventions that are more targeted, more prioritized and, as a result, more impactful:

Organizational Lens.

The quality of service and experience propositions can flow from the basic way an organization is put together, the environment in which it functions, and its ways of working – exceptional customer experience starts from within. Looking at service and experience propositions through the Organizational Lens, Muda, Mura and Muri typically manifest as structural, rather than episodic, deviations, and take the form of culture misalignments, leadership shortfalls, training gaps and rigid organizational silos that drive the poor employee engagement that virtually guarantees negative service and experience outcomes. As a point of reference, long-standing research surrounding the Service Profit Chain (Source: HBR) established and quantified these relationships. Therefore, collaborative action between HR, People Leaders, Operators and CX Practitioners to identify and mitigate systemic deviations through the Organizational Lens is the first step in creating durable organizational foundations that are more likely to produce high-quality services and exceptional customer experiences with consistency.

Operational Lens.

With the ecosystem view, customer-centric organizations can now expand the range of considered Muda, Mura and Muri found within core journeys, to also include the less visible backstage interactions, underlying technologies, third-party handoffs, and other supporting elements, upon which the quality and cost of today’s service and experience propositions are dependent. In practice, this means identifying and mitigating the systemic deviations, including sensory deviations (i.e. sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch) in the physical channel, high-friction workflows, and disjointed information flows, that drive how services are experienced, relative to how much they cost to deliver. This framework enables a more focused collaboration between frontstage, customer-facing actors, and their backstage operational partners to increase operational agility, support the migration from reactive to anticipatory service delivery, reduce costly redundancies, and minimize the demoralizing effects of rework.

Emotional Lens.

Although it may run counter to our collective obsession with data, the role that human emotion plays in determining service and experience outcomes cannot be overstated. One of the most impactful ways to elicit positive emotional responses and build deeper relationships with customers is to show authentic empathy to the functional, emotional, rational and social needs that matter most to internal and external customers. Correspondingly, misalignment to customer needs is one of the most prevalent and systemic sources of Mura (unevenness or variability), expressed by employees and customers on their journeys. Through the Emotional Lens, drawing from proven ethnographic research practices, customer-centric organizations can apply the discipline of “needfinding” to promote a deeper inquiry into needs, independent of and unbiased by efforts to address them. With this perspective, design and improvement interventions can be executed to look more expansively for unmet needs (i.e. underlying, unarticulated, undervalued, unconsidered, unsatisfied or unknown). In the end, orienting interventions in this way offers unique opportunities to demonstrate authentic empathy, close gaps between experiences and expectations, and design the “WOW” moments that lead to deeper emotional connections, higher emotional switching costs, and passionate brand loyalty and advocacy.

HEAR IT FROM HORST #3:

Real knowledge about the customer is absolutely essential. Without it, you cannot serve your market in a way that is superior to the competition.

— CX words of wisdom from Horst Schulze, Cofounder of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. &
Author of “EXCELLENCE WINS: A No-Nonsense Guide to Becoming the Best in a World of Compromise.

FINAL THOUGHTS (AND A WORD OF CAUTION).

Leaders and practitioners in customer-centric operations, CX and other experience and service-intensive roles, recognize that simply focusing on “getting the job done” is no longer good enough to consistently meet the new standard of delivering exceptional experiences. On the heels of establishing core infrastructure for CX measurement comes the really hard, on-going work of aligning, optimizing, and rewiring customer and employee journeys to that elevated standard.



  1. Fortunately, starting with an “ecosystem view”, highly-targeted design and improvement interventions can be executed to materially move the needle from frustrating pain points to memorable touchpoints.
  2. As perennial customer experience leaders and best-in-class service brands know, this path goes through the reduction of systemic deviations — Muda (waste), Mura (unevenness), and Muri (overburden) – that can compromise service and experience propositions, internal shared services and across other end-to-end customer and employee journeys.
  3. As a final thought, a word of caution: leaders and practitioners in customer-centric operations, CX and other experience and service-intensive roles should resist the urge to throw the entire Lean Six Sigma playbook to meet the standard of consistently delivering exceptional customer experiences – the practices that we advance here are much more selective and nuanced, requiring both art and science.

    As we explored in this blog, mastering the art and science associated to identifying and reducing systemic deviations provides a proven way to make the elevated standard of customer experience more attainable and more sustainable.

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