Operational Inefficiency = Unhappy customers

Many times, people assume that great customer service will keep customers happy and focus all their time in training their customer service executives. Yes, the customer service team faces the customer so they need to be well trained and can make a mess of the customer interaction or really delight the customer. But the real backbone of great customer service is operational efficiency. I have spent my whole life running operations and customer service and anytime there is operational inefficiency, customers have been unhappy. Here are two examples from different industries that will drive the point home.

On Jan 1st, we attended Vishakha Hari’s concert at Narada Gana Sabha and to celebrate the new year we went to the Cream n Stone outlet that is located just before the Narada Gana Sabha concert hall to have ice cream. We ordered three different flavours and the server was really sweet. He spoke nicely, smiled and was genuinely happy to serve. Then, operations (mixing the ice creams, order taking) messed up… The first ice cream that got served was the wrong one and the new server tried to convince us that we had asked for that ice cream ! In fact he went back to the till and told the guy there that we changed our order at the last minute. Sad. Then we got hold of this manager like guy and repeated our order and told him that we hadn’t changed the order. Mom got her ice cream first because it was a single flavour, a strawberry ice-cream. Then I got mine which was again a single flavour. Krishnan just waited. We finally caught hold of the server who had taken our order and asked him if we should leave since they seemed to be struggling with our order. He apologised, went and stood at the mixing counter and ensured Krishnan got his exotic fruit fantasy ice cream.

We thought maybe they were short staffed and that was causing the delays but as we looked at other tables, everyone’s order was either delayed or wrong ice creams were being served. There were two people at the ice cream mixing station and they were quite efficient in churning out the orders, but their order taking system was just out of whack ! We braved the chaos and ordered yet another single flavour for Krishnan. This time the manager like guy took the order and guess what, he forgot to punch the order and again we waited. Finally we caught hold of him as he swung around and got the ice cream immediately.. And we told him, he is welcome to forget our bill :). He didn’t and we paid up and left the ice cream parlour, dissatisfied. Mind you, the product they were selling, ice cream, was of top quality, but the whole experience was unsatisfactory because of operational inefficiency.

The second incident happened on Jan 7th. We thought with Vishakha Hari’s concert we had completed the Chennai music season for the year, but we got passes for Sikkil Gurucharan’s concert on Jan 7th. The pass said, the program was a part of an awards function where there would be a competition for young singers. Since the pass said 5.30 pm, we assumed that Sikkil Gurucharan’s program would start at 5.30 or at best by 6 pm. We went as always half hour ahead of the program and  as we sat down, some young competitors also came and sat down. The emcee started the program at 5.30 and she was a good presenter. She requested all the competitors to sit in two rows and then welcomed the two judges. The third judge came late :(. Initially we thought it was fun to hear the young singers and some of them sang really well.

I noticed many operational inefficiencies right away, the musician playing the mridangam changed his instrument after every few sessions… He had brought some 8 mridangams and it started to get irritating that he would change it so often. Then each participant brought their own “Shruti” box … Setting the pitch on that took a while. After some 8 participants had sung, the judges realised that each one was taking a long time to complete a piece and they abruptly cut off a participant and announced that each participant would have only 10 minutes. The audience got restless because it was close to 7 pm and Sikkil Gurucharan had already come into the hall … There were nearly 10 more participants left. Initially the emcee had announced that Sikkil Gurucharan’s concert will be delayed by 15 minutes and would start by 7.15. Nobody seems to have informed him of the changed schedule and he landed up by 6.45 pm. The operational inefficiencies continued with the judges not stopping some participants even when they sang for 14 minutes and stopping others at 10 minutes sharp.

By 7.30 I got really restless and thought of just leaving the hall without listening to Sikkil Gurucharan and then Krishnan as always pacified me saying we are anyway here, lets just wait for another half hour. Finally Sikkil Gurucharan started his concert at 8 pm a full one hour later than originally announced. He was outstanding and interestingly enough, he and his accompanying musicians set themselves up in 5 minutes – all the tuning etc got done in quick time. Thats the hallmark of a genius who works hard at his craft. Finally, the audience managed to enjoy outstanding singing by Sikkil Gurucharan for just an hour and had to listen to young singers for two and half hours all because of operational inefficiency. I hold the judges and the program coordinators responsible for this mess up because they didn’t announce the 10-minute rule right up front and then implemented the rule in an adhoc manner. There were too many participants and no one had spent time thinking how much time will it take to get all of them to sing before Sikkil Gurucharan’s slot at 7 p.m. All it needed was some planning and working backwards from 7 p.m and maybe they needed to have started the competitions by 4 pm. Also one of the judges coming late and many participants coming late is just sloppy behaviour – if I was running the show, I would not have allowed the late comers to participate even… its like showing up late for an interview or coming late for work on day one.

Infact I am notorious for having declined candidates who have come late for the interview without informing in advance and I failed many times to convince my colleagues in HR that some of the folks who came late for the orientation session must be asked to leave the organization because the job is not important for them. I have tracked a few of these candidates who came late for the orientation sessions that I have facilitated and they have invariably been poor performers or have had issues with delivering results.

All organisations need to focus on their operational efficiency because its like the heart of the organization, if the heart malfunctions, every other organ fails too !!

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