I was reading the USAirways in-flight magazine while flying from Philadelphia to Boston the other day. The issue’s Must Read is anexcerpt from Chapter 1 of the book Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us by Emily Yellin. I thought it was interesting as it is filled with horror stories of how Customer Service treated (or more accurately, mistreated) customers.

Bad customer service is prevalent in almost all industries, institutions and governments, and every individual has their personal stories. I’ve had several encounters in the past few months that were so aggravating and infuriating that I would never do business with them again. But my purpose here is not to whine or complain, but to ask why. Why do businesses choose to treat customers badly and refuse to listen? Yet, everyday they wonder why their products don’t sell and customers don’t come back.

As a Lean Six Sigma professional, I connect everything we do to the Voice of the Customer: Definition of defects, CTQs, 7 types of waste, etc. No tool or concept can help us improve our business better than understanding customer needs. It seems painfully obvious that every customer interaction is an opportunity to learn about the market and improve the business. Market leaders use such deep understanding of customer needs as a strategic weapon to develop superior products, customer intimacy, and operational excellence.

There are some commonly mentioned causes for poor customer service, such as focus on cost, wrong measure of performance, functional silos, or simply not caring (because of monopoly). Is such a problem an opportunity to introduce Lean Six Sigma to the organization or an indicator that Lean Six Sigma deployment would likely fail? Is Lean Six Sigma a solution in these organizations? Or is Lean Six Sigma even compatible to the culture and management of such organizations? I’d like to hear about your experience.

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