Customer feedback and Lean organizations
By Lisa van der Lugt
Lean Fellow, Results Washington
One thing we have learned on our Lean journey is the importance of listening to customers.
Businesses – successful ones, at least – know this. They survey. They convene focus groups. They do taste tests and usability testing and hire mystery shoppers.
The resulting data can be very valuable, helping companies improve quality, respond to needs and reduce missteps.
Those of us in government can learn a lot from this mindset. True, we tend to provide services rather than making products. But customer feedback can often help show us the easiest, most effective ways to provide those services. Our workflow can get easier and the outcomes get better for customers and clients.
One question that always comes up early in these conversations is “Who is the customer?” It’s not as clear as it seems. Our immediate customers may be the people we deal with directly, including other state employees. But often, the ultimate customer is the public.
If a state trooper pulls over an aggressive driver, for example, the immediate “customer” is seemingly the person getting the ticket. But in the bigger picture, the customers are also the many other drivers who are now traveling on safer roads.
At Results Washington, we’ve seen numerous examples of agencies reaching out to customers and using the feedback to improve what they do. One agency launched online chats to help customers. Another began posting frequently requested records prominently on the agency website. Others have shortened long forms, sped up response times and made documents much easier to understand.
For employees, such changes have helped reduce re-work, calls, public disclosure requests and redundant processes.
Washington has a long tradition of innovation, and moving toward a Lean culture of continual improvement. Sometimes the first step toward improvement is listening – really listening – to what people are trying to tell you.
Lisa van der Lugt is a member of Results Washington’s Lean fellowship program.