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How to Strengthen the Customer Interface with Operations Management

Any process that requires direct contact with the customer needs special attention by operations management. These face-to-face interactions reveal blemishes along with beauty marks to the customer. Examples of interface points include a customer entering a bank for service, a patient coming into a doctor’s office for an appointment, or a patron sitting down at a restaurant table. In all these situations, customers directly interface with your resources.

When designing face-to-face processes, you want to establish simple traffic patterns to make it easy for customers to get through the process, and you want to maintain a customer-friendly atmosphere.

Here are some guidelines for designing a customer interface:

  • Establish an easy service flow. How many times have you stood in a line, only to discover you were in the wrong line? Confusing processes are infuriating to customers, so you want to avoid them. Design a process that’s visible and clear from the customer’s perspective.

    One way to establish a clear process is to have these components:

    • One point of entry

    • Well-marked steps

    • Personnel available to direct customers as needed

  • Minimize handoffs of customers. How many times have you been at a store and gone from employee to employee, trying to find someone to answer your question or solve your problem?

    When designing the customer interface, clear this hurdle to customer satisfaction by creating a step in the process that makes it easy for customers to be served at their convenience or a resource that can provide a quick and clear path through the process. Implementing this may require the use of flexible resources (resources that can perform multiple tasks in a process).

  • Minimize the movement of the customer through your process. The last thing you want is a customer roaming throughout your facility because she doesn’t know where to go. This increases the customer’s flow time and runs the risk that the customer may not end up at the next correct process step or, worse, may be exposed to those back-office processes that weren’t designed for customer eyes.

  • Maximize the customer’s comfort. If you must make your customers wait, make sure they do so in comfort. When designing your facility, be sure to balance service and waiting areas; make sure your waiting areas are comfortable.

  • Keep customers in view. Designing a process in which your customer is always visible allows employees to make sure that the process is running as it should be and that customers aren’t deviating from the desired path. Visibility also aids in security and, especially in retail operations, deters theft.

  • Capitalize on your space. You generally want to place your facilities where customer traffic is high. Because of this, most face-to-face customer interaction occurs in locations where the facility cost per square foot is high relative to less congested areas. You want high traffic or sales volume to compensate for the cost of the location. Design processes to minimize space while maintaining these directives.

  • Separate back-office processes from front-office processes. Make every effort to separate your face-to-face processes from the processes that, although they must occur to satisfy the customer, the customer isn’t directly involved in. Back-office processes include a restaurant kitchen, the loan approval process at a bank, and inventory storage spaces at big box stores.

    However, some companies expose traditional back-office processes as part of their business strategy, such as those restaurants that have open kitchens so the customer can observe the cooking or warehouse retailers that keep all inventory visible in an effort to keep costs down.

Facility layout design is critical because the design may be duplicated in many facilities. Think about your favorite fast food joint. When entering, it’s often difficult to distinguish one facility from another across town or in a different state. The process and facility design of a chain restaurant is duplicated many times, so an inefficiency is magnified many times in each location.

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