In order to successfully deliver service to customers, satisfy them and increase the likelihood of future business, transactional companies can make good use of the 5S tool as a basic framework to manage workplace dynamics.

By Sharad Sharma

Services have this unique characteristic of customers being an important part of the entire service delivery process. Hence, it is important that the delivery process is given as much attention by transactional businesses as their final products. For example, a bank that treats customers better during the interaction when negotiating a loan, say, may be favored over another bank in spite of the other bank’s loan having a slightly lower interest rate.

In order to successfully deliver service to customers, satisfy them and increase the likelihood of future business, transactional companies can make good use of the 5S tool as a basic framework to manage workplace dynamics.

The 5S tool name is from the five Japanese words Seiri, Seiton, Seiso, Seiketsu and Shitsuke. Roughly translated, they mean sort, straighten, shine, standardize and sustain. While the 5S tool is often used in reference to manufacturing, it is clear it has meaning in transactional businesses as well.

S1: Seiri, or Sort

The first S focuses on eliminating unnecessary items from the workplace. In a typical services delivery environment, an organization should aim at removing from the service delivery are all that is not required for serving the customer. For example, a bank welcome desk should have only those documents/forms that are to be acted upon during customer interaction. All the rest, such as internal reports, advertisements, completed documents, etc., need to be removed.

Whatever is not visible to the customer also is should be sorted, including items in a storeroom, stationery cupboards, drawers and cabinets of all the staff. This is essential to make sure that all the unwanted material is actually removed and not just hidden. This allows staff to get to materials, when needed, quickly and efficiently. And it often provides an additional benefit of freeing up storage space.

The work place needs to be designed to avoid non-value-added time being required to get ready for a customer. That certainly is something recognized in manufacturing where each process is ready to go immediately upon arrival of the product from the previous production step. Restaurants are a good example of this when they have the table cleared and set when a customer arrives. No hint of what the previous customer had for dinner. The client who comes in for service at a bank should not address an adviser across a desk covered in printouts, half-filled out forms, reports or checks from a previous client.

S2: Seiton, or Straighten (Orderliness)

This refers to keeping the tools and equipment in a systematic manner. It is aimed at identification, organizing arranging the workplace in a manner that reduces the time wasted on searching and looking around. At the same time it makes the workplace more “system” dependent and people independent.

For services it means:

  • Clearly identify all the workplace tools required and make sure that they are available at the point of service delivery methodically. (“A place for every thing and every thing in its place.”) For example, all the blank forms can be kept in a stand and labeled. In a restaurant all the default cutlery to be served can be kept in stands/bins and the waiter has to just pick up one from each bin to ensure that all the tools are served without any duplication.
  • If the workplace deals with documents either in hard copy for in soft format, a documents storage and retrieval system needs to be designed and implemented to ensure document retrieval within a matter of seconds. Customer interaction areas can have dispensers created for documents disposal, notice boards for all the information that needs to be communicated.
  • Since the customer also is a part of service delivery, service companies need to pay proper attention to its “work in process inventory.” There can be simple signage for guidance, proper area marked for waiting and timely information convey through tickers.

S3: Seiso, or Shine (Cleanliness)

It is all about keeping the workplace neat and clean. As a part of 5S, maintaining cleanliness should be part of the daily work, not an occasional activity initiated when things get too messy. Unlike manufacturing, where the customer seldom visits the shop floor, the services customer is a part and parcel of the shop floor. The premises needs to be neat and clean without any clutter and should be maintained properly. Due attention also needs to be given to aesthetics, lighting and convenience of the customers.

S4: Seiketsu, or Standardization

This means operating in a consistent and standardized fashion. It is about making sure that any activity is performed in the same manner across the organization. A well-defined process for all the key customer-related activities goes a long way into ensuring this. The essence of standardization is all the activities done right the first time and every time.

Make sure that the method adopted for any activity is same irrespective of any branch the customer might be visiting and any employee customer might be interacting with. This gives the organization an identity in the eyes of the customer. Tools such as checklists, process maps, mistake proofing along with a set of policies and rules can be used to achieve the same.

S5: Shitsuke, or Sustain

The final step is to continue training and maintaining the standards. Whatever is achieved out of four S’s needs to be sustained and improved upon. The fifth S has to be built into the daily activities and should be a part of everyone’s job rather than assigned to a 5S coordinator. While sustaining the 5S’s through discipline is what is usually advocated, at the same time sustaining by design is what any organization should look for. For example, using preprinted file covers instead of sticking labels would ensure all the files are properly marked. Similarly, rather than conducting refresher trainings on 5S, the same can be included into the initial training of every new employee.

The most important aspect of any process improvement is sustaining it. That needs to be given the kind of attention and focus by all as required for any other stage of the project.

About the Author: Sharad Sharma employed with HDFC Bank and is a practicing Six Sigma Black Belt. He is graduate of the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE), Mumbai, India. He has extensive experience of deploying quality initiatives across the manufacturing, business process outsourcing and financial services sectors. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author