The importance of striving for continuous improvement and innovation (article)


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Derek Stockley explores the importance of innovation and continuous improvement. Specific personal examples provide a basis for the development of principles, with customer service in organisations being highlighted.

Continuous improvement

I realised recently that the concept of continuous improvement had been instilled in me from an early age. As explained at continuous improvement approach, it has been an important part of my whole working life.

However, during a recent conversation with my father, I realised that I had learnt the principles from him in childhood. I often assisted him in his carpentry and building activities. (See: Lifelong learning and personal development for more detail about my father’s skill development, and the principles of lifelong learning generally.)

My father has always reviewed the way he worked and how job was done. He has constantly looked for better, more efficient and safer ways to complete a task or process.

Consequently, he has invented a variety of tools and aids that assisted him in his work. He has refined and fine tuned the processes he uses thoroughly.

I now realise that such thinking is also part of my day-to-day approach.

Innovation

During the holiday season, I have played many board games with family members.

One game uses a single dice, and because of the rules of the game, you may not be able to use the score from each throw.

Luckily, innovation has occurred. To manually "throw" the dice for each turn would add hours to the time taken to play the game.

In this game, the dice is enclosed in a plastic dome which you press down in a clicking motion. The base is attached to a spring, which "throws" the dice when released.

Each person can have a "turn" very quickly. This keeps the game moving quickly.

This innovation has eliminated a lot of "slow" time. The game would be very slow and boring if each player had to "throw" the dice.

Innovation and growth

It is important to constantly look for better ways to do things.

Obviously it leads to greater efficiency and productivity.

It is also more fun. Even the most routine of tasks becomes more interesting if you are reviewing and thinking about what you are doing.

One of the challenges of business is achieving 100% accuracy and consistency. Most organisations get it right most of the time.

The real challenge is to get it right EVERY time.

Innovation and customer service

In a customer service environment, that takes real dedication, determination and persistence.

It means a responsive customer greeting, delivery of the service and/or product and a proper close - all in an accurate and friendly manner. It means that there should not be the need for follow up or correction.

High quality can only achieved through hard work and effort.

The standards expected should also be set high. Too many organisations allow complacency (see Telephone systems and Overuse of the apology in customer service.)

It is essential to set the target high enough.

Although no one can be perfect, perfection should be the target - not just "satisfactory".

Achieving perfection is very difficult, but the challenge is worthwhile. The effort involved has a motivational effect. The real sense of teamwork developed can positively affect morale.

Your personal review

What standards have you set?

What are your customer service standards?

Are they being met?

Are they being met every time?

Most importantly, are your standards high enough?

Are your standards superior to those achieved by your competitors?

Related articles quoted above

Continuous improvement approach - outlines Derek’s approach to continuous improvement.

Lifelong learning and personal development - explains the concepts of learning, particularly life long learning and personal development.

Telephone systems - an article that explains good telephone system design for organisations, including tips on excellent customer service design.

Overuse of the apology in customer service - highlights a common mistake in customer service delivery systems.

Postscript - one week later

In a previous article (above), I mentioned a board game when discussing innovation. I described how the dice was enclosed in a dome and operated with a clicking motion.

As a further example of innovation, we changed the game’s rules this week. The game is called Agitation! and the rules stated you needed to throw a one with the dice to start your race to home. By changing the rule to one AND two, the game has become even more exciting.

It reminded me of the need for organisations to encourage staff to provide feedback on policies and processes. Frontline staff gather a wealth of information about customer expectations and requirements. It is a shame if that information is not used.

See the resources listed at the end of this article, as well as The customer is always right.

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