Continuous improvement is a key characteristic of the most successful customer experience. Successful service organizations realize that no service initiative is perfect and have a framework in place to capture results and analyze them for potential improvement towards better customer experiences.
Many of the quality management practices the Japanese manufacturing system is well-known for can be traced back to statisticians like W. Edwards Deming, who introduced the concepts of eliminating defects in production systems and established frameworks for organizations to analyze production and improve the quality of outputs produced.
The human system of delivery customer service experiences faces some of the same parallels of traditional manufacturing. No organization wants failed service interactions, yet the human element of service means that mistakes take place and processes fail to capture all possible customer circumstances leading to decisions being made in the dark that in hindsight were not in the customer’s best interest.
The same system of Total Quality Management (TQM) introduced into Japan after World War II to establish its manufacturing perfection focus can be applied to customer service teams to ensure continuous improvement of customer service experiences.
The Deming Cycle of Continuous Customer Service Improvement
The Deming Cycle, also known as the PDSA cycle, is an effective model for continuous service improvement to develop higher quality experiences. The cycle establishes a logical sequence of four steps for continuous improvement and organizational learning.
- PLAN. Plan ahead for customer service interactions. Analyze and predict the results.
- DO. Execute the service plan, take small steps in controlled circumstances.
- STUDY (check). Study the results of service interactions, capture customer feedback.
- ACT. Take action to standardize successful practices or improve the service actions.
This continuous wheel of processes or improvement spiral ensures that organizations follow a careful process as they implement service initiatives and review service processes and frameworks for its effectiveness while modifying and learning from its less than desirable service interactions.
The Benefits of The Deming Cycle of Customer Service Improvement
- Provides a daily routine for service management actions for individuals and teams
- Establishes a framework of reporting to senior leadership
- Creates a clear problem solving process
- Provide project management guidance
- Natural continuous development cycle
- Easy to integrate vendors into service process by cycle category
- Reportable to human resources for people development
- Focused on trial and error, can be implemented in real time
Continuous Improvement is a Lifestyle
While it’s natural to judge individuals or processes based on results, it’s more effective to realize that people and processes are fluid and naturally evolving. No individual or process is perfect from the onset. With careful study, learning, and application, people and processes can be improved. Everything we do, can be more than we think it to currently be. Development and improvement are not only a paradigm for people, but also for processes and technologies. Improvement is a choice. Continuous improvement is a lifestyle.
Whatever situation you find yourself in, you can believe in your capabilities, establish context, drive action, and build successful service operations. Develop awareness for the needs of service and be agile in your implementations and re-implementations based on what you have learned. Commit to a continuous improvement lifestyle. Your commitment will be the key to avoiding the dysfunction that arises from lack of structure or organization. As you remain committed you will secure improvements and ensure that you don’t fall back to old habits and failed service actions.
I agree with you that continuous improvement should be a key part of every customer experience. We all know of companies whose experiences have not kept up to date with changing customer behaviours. They are difficult and irritating to do business with.
The Plan – Do- Check Act (PDCA) cycle you describe is actually one of three interlinked cycles that Shoshi Shiba developed into the WV Model (as described by Petrolini & Walden in an article on’Planning Projects and Tasks Using the 9 Steps’).
Just as reactive improvement is captured by the PDCA cycle, so is day-to-day control of work by the Standardise – Do – Check – Act (SDCA) cycle. The aim should be to standardise work around developed best practices for the business. If day-to-day work produces unusual results (picked up during the Check process of the SDCA cycle), they should be passed to the Plan process of the PDCA cycle for further investigation. If after investigating the unusual results and implementing an improvement the results are as expected, they should be fed back into the Standardise process of the SDCA cycle as updated standardised work. The SDCA and PDCA cycle naturally cycle around each other in this way.
In addition to the SDCA cycle that controls work, and the PDCA cycle that reactively improves it there is also a third Explore – Formulate – Do Act (EFDA) cycle that proactively improves work. This is more often used when looking for step-change improvements in how work should be done, rather than incremental improvements as would be the case with the PDCA cycle.