It's All About The Experience

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A blog about managing and improving customer experience and improving profits.


Time Lost, Money Lost
Time Lost, Money Lost

Most managers like to think about time management as a personal productivity issue.  People who manage time get ahead; those who don't manage time well fall behind.[1] However, it is crucial to understand that operationally, there are ways of organizing or reorganizing work to reduce the amount of time wasted. The old saw, "Time is money," has particular relevance here.  Time is a vital resource that is subject to 'leaks.' Too many organizations, neither measure nor analyze how they spend time.  Time drifts away, the noiseless killer of a company or nonprofit. 

Time 'leaks.'

 A time 'leaks' analysis has some handy applications in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. Tracking time can yield valuable insights into everything from employee utilization rates (in consulting, that's the percentage of billable hours divided by total hours worked) to how focused (or not) a particular employee may happen to be on the work performed.

Consultants, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who bill for time spent, detest the daily ball and chain of accounting for time.  We track our time so we can accurately charge our clients.  But we also use time tracking so that we can recognize the opportunity cost of the time we dedicate to business development, pro bono, or administrative activities as well.  This third use is essential to our discussion.  Looking over those timesheets on a cumulative basis, for example, for the past year, yields valuable insights into how we are performing economically, and the kinds of projects we are taking on.

Most businesses don't sell their time, and so time-tracking is unfamiliar; however, the discipline of tracking time is a powerful one, and one that can be used to identify additional "leaks."   As savvy managers, we should look at how much time each employee is dedicating to various activities. "Diary analyses of how different people spend their time in the same role--sales rep, trader, store manager, regional vice president--often provoke astonishment at the sharply contrasting ways different individuals perform the same job." So say authors Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet, in a January 2013 article in McKinsey Quarterly.  "The not-so-good performers are often highly fragmented, spending time on the wrong things in the wrong places while ignoring tasks core to their strategic objectives.[2]"

Such analyses can identify underutilized resources in your organization. You can find opportunities to automate inefficient manual processes. In some cases, you can locate redundant activities repeated by business units or departments. To develop this data, use time tracking software or an online data form. Ask each employee to track their time, allocating their workdays in quarter hours to a previously agreed-upon list of activities. Ask them to do this for two or three weeks or long enough to provide a representative time allocation, meaningful in your organization.  Summarize the data at the employee level, then at the group level.   Meet with the employees, both individually and at the group level. Then, drill-down and understand anomalous data and trends.

What to Look for    

Employees will be nervous about this activity, so it is crucial to make them feel at ease. Your goal will be to help them be more productive with the time they have and to manage the entire department's time better. You will be surprised by the amount of time that your employees dedicate to tasks that can be automated.

Every organization is different, but here are some opportunities that may exist in your organization:

  • Redundant or repetitive activities. Computers are great at doing the same thing over and over, while humans tend to get bored, then make mistakes.  If your employees are engaged in something which is highly repetitive, chances are there are ways of automating the activity and finding something more complicated for your people to do. 
  • Paper-based workflows.  Look for situations where there is a paper-based form or data re-keying.  Also, look closely at any processes that cause the paper to travel from department to department.[3]
  • High volumes of the same types of phone calls.  While the personal touch of a warm transfer is excellent, once you move to call volumes in the thousands and even hundreds, an automated response may be merited.  A Voice Response Unit (VRU) or voice recognition menu can accomplish the same thing.  Keep the VRU menu easy-to-use and straightforward, and many customers will prefer it.  Give users the option to choose "0" to opt-out of the technology should they so wish.
  • Redundant customer service calls.  Are your CSR's answering the same questions over and over?  Can the website provide these answers?  A favorite example here is in using web-based frequently asked questions.  For instance, RightNow Technologies, now part of Oracle Corporation, developed a dynamic Frequently Asked Question system, which allows users to type in a query.  The system uses a language parser to break up the question, then applies logic based on previous answers to deliver back intelligent responses.  System users vote on how well the answer responded to their problem, and gradually, the system learns to meet users' needs more and more correctly.  The system tags questions without answers and customers unsatisfied with responses for further follow-up by CSR's. Another,[4] company called nanorep offers a competing technology.[5]
  • Needless Data Entry.  If you have large numbers of employee hours dedicated to entering data from survey forms, paper-based registration, or other activities, think about developing electronic forms and pushing that information out to the web.  Online forms vendors permit you to build and push out electronic web forms.  The information so generated is stored on a secure server. Download this information in a variety of ways to be brought into your company's data systems or live on a spreadsheet on your computer.
  • Event-related Inbound Phone Calls or Routine Information Requests.  Are there events or occurrences that flood your organization with calls or emails on an all too frequent basis, taking away from your staff's ability to do their jobs?  It may be certain events like changes in leadership, product recalls, meeting times, or fire alarms or weather-related closures. This type of response is what we identify in Customer Service as Failure Demand[6], and the source of the demand is our failure to address the information or service needs of others.  Consider taking an offensive rather than defensive communications stance with these matters. You can do this by communicating on the topic. Communicate before you receive a large number of questions. Do so before the questions choke your staff productivity for the day. Here are some mediums that every organization can use to address this challenge:
     
    • Press Releases on Web Site.  If the press is hounding your leadership with questions, draft and post an official response and put it on your website, then communicate with employees and Board Members to refer the press to the public statement.
    • Emails to key constituencies. Be sure to organize your critical constituencies into email groups (e.g., Board Members:  Leadership Teams: Senior, Middle, All; Employees; Key vendors; customers or members, or if you are a school, Parents, Faculty, Coaches, Students, etc.)  The goal is to communicate with each constituency in a tailored and appropriate manner.
    • Voice or Text Broadcasts to address Frequently Asked Questions.  If you are a nonprofit, for example, a school, certain events can trigger large numbers of calls. Calls come from concerned parents (events, fire alarms, incidents affecting student safety; changes of leadership are all examples. Consider using a cloud-based voice or text broadcast system. Let everyone know what is going on, thereby eliminating hundreds of inbound calls.  Cloud-based vendors like call IfbyPhone, CallFire, LogMyCalls, CallRailsmake this kind of communication accessible. 

 

By tracking and managing employees' time as an organizational resource rather than a personal one, leaders can come to understand how their team accomplishes its work.   Analyzing employees' work activities over time,  allows managers to identify activities and processes which are wasteful. By making comparisons between employees, you can bring to light best practices.

 

Further, by informing the staff that their managers think employee time is valuable, leaders empower team members to find more time-efficient ways to complete their work.  This analysis creates a virtual circle: analysis, improvement, additional analysis, additional improvement. In the beginning, this change may cost the organization upfront investment in technology and automation. However,  long-term,  the organization will be rewarded with higher productivity, higher employee satisfaction, lower turnover, and higher profits. 



 

[1] See http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/making_time_management_the_organizations_priority#sthash.YMbwQxlt.dpuf

[2] See http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/organization/making_time_management_the_organizations_priority#sthash.YMbwQxlt.dpuf

[3] For a great example of this problem, see Hammer, Michael, "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate." Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1990, p. 104.

[4] See http://www.oracle.com/us/products/applications/rightnow/engage/knowledge/features/index.html

[5] See http://www.nanorep.com

[6] John Seddon, "Freedom from Command and Control, Rethinking Management for Lean Service, Productivity Press, 2005 (pp. 26-28).



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