A Fun, Fast Technique for Process Improvement and Better Customer Service

Whether your customers are external or internal, there are probably ways to improve how your team serves them.  However, it's easy to get stuck in "the way we've always done it," and it can be overwhelming to try and come up with new approaches when you're barely keeping your heads above water in your daily work.  This activity, which comes from a design thinking workshop I recently attended, is a quick and fun way to identify potential areas to start with in improving your customer experience.  It leverages the deep knowledge your employees have about what customers get frustrated with and what they ask for.  It might also help your team to bond a little, because it gives them a chance to be silly at work and try to make each other laugh.  

You can use this activity as a separate meeting or as part of a regular team meeting.  It can be done in half an hour, but you'll probably get more out of the discussion if you allow an hour or schedule a follow-up within a week for further brainstorming. Here's how it works:

Preparation

  1. Identify a key process or situation where your customers are interacting with your team's work in some way.  Tip: try to think about this from your customer's point of view, rather than the team's.  That it, identify their need rather than the business process.  For example, an IT team might have a process for logging on and think of it as "single-sign on" or "VPN" or something similar, but the customer need is "access my documents when I'm not in the office."
  2. Have the team identify who and what are the key players in addressing the customer need for this process or situation.  For example, "access my documents when I'm not in the office" might include the remote employee, the portal interface, the VPN, the file directory, and perhaps even a help desk support person.  
  3. Ask for someone from the team to portray each aspect identified in the previous step.  In some cases, they'll be portraying people, and in others, they may be portraying systems or other technology.

Round 1: Worst Possible Experience

(10 minutes)
 

  1. Have the players act out the worst possible experience for the process or customer need.  Every person/component should demonstrate the worst case scenario for their part of the process.  They don't have to discuss this ahead of time - they can just start being difficult and react to each other.  Encourage everyone to be creative and take things to an extreme.  Employees who are observing can make suggestions, too.  How bad can you possibly make the scenario?
  2. After about five minutes or when the scene has reached a conclusion (or more likely, an impasse), call time.  
  3. Ask everyone, including observers who weren't part of the scene,  to share what some of the issues were that were identified and list those on a whiteboard or flipchart.

Round 2: Best Possible Experience

(10 minutes)
 

  1. Give employees the option to play the same roles again or switch things up.  
  2. For this round, players should act out the best possible experience for the process or customer need.  Every person/component should demonstrate the very best case scenario for their part of the process, and they can include impossible or imaginary things if they want.  Again, they don't need to discuss ahead of time - just start.  Just as with round 1, encourage them to take things to an extreme, and observers can add suggestions.
  3. After about five minutes or when the scene has concluded (whichever comes first), call time.
  4. Ask everyone to share what some of the features or elements were that were identified and create a new list for those items, including the imaginary or impossible ones.

Round 3: Imaginary Design

(10-15 minutes)

Get the group to brainstorm on the following questions.  If you have a large group (more than 10), you may want to divide them into groups of 5-9 people and then have the groups report out.  If you have a highly analytical group, you may want to hide the second question until they've completed their answers to the first one, so that they don't move into identifying realistic options too soon.  Identifying impossible and unrealistic ideas is important in getting them to think more creatively about what is realistic, so don't skip the first question!

  1. What ideal solutions would help to prevent the issues on the "worst" list and create the features on the "best" list?  In a world without constraints, what would make the "best" scenario possible?
  2. What are some ways to approximate the ideal solutions, given our actual constraints?  

Round 4: Now What?

(10-20 minutes, depending on the group and the ideas)
 

  1. Discuss the realistic list with the team.  Based on what was discussed, is there anything the team can do in the short term to improve the customer experience in this area?  What would have the biggest impact?  What would it take?  
  2. Identify a small, realistic action that can be taken in the next few months and determine who will be involved with implementing it.  Is there a low-risk way to test it, perhaps as a small, time-limited pilot?  


Once your team has had a chance to think really creatively about one process, you may find that they start coming up with ideas for other processes as well.  Help them to prioritize possible changes based on the impact they will have on the customer.

While this process could be used repeatedly for all of your processes, that probably isn't necessary.  One or two times may be enough to help your team start thinking more creatively and in a more customer-centric way.  Your customers will be happier because the processes and systems fit their needs better, and your employees will be happier because they don't have to keep hearing the same complaints from customers over and over.  And you'll be happier because even though strategy is a big part of your job, you're not the one having to figure all of this out on your own!

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