Wednesday, January 03, 2007

customer experience v total process time

If you had a choice between faster service and a good customer experience which would you choose? Of course, it depends on how much time and how much better the experience could be. This is important because the discipline of work design looks at how to reduce total process time through lean process design, time study, and other largely quantitative techniques. The discipline of cognitive engineering looks at making activities easy and enjoyable. Companies really need to consider them both, either finding solutions that achieve both or making the compromises that best meet customer desires.

So here is my example. I was in a pharmacy, where I went to buy a gallon of milk. It had just opened, so there were very few customers in the store. I picked out the milk and looked over at the cash register and didn't see anyone. So I went to the jewelry area where there is also a register and there was a cashier. Another customer asked her if the bands on the watches were interchangeable. I was standing right behind him, clearly waiting to check out. She told him yes and then left me standing there to go into the camera developing area for a reason I do not know. If it was more time critical to do that task than spend 1-minute with me, then I accept her action. But she could have at least said something to me, instead of ignoring me completely. The amount she gained in total process time (if any) was doubtfully worth more than my decrease in customer experience.

With her gone, I looked back over at the regular cash register. I realized that there was a cashier there, but she was bending down to stock the cigarette shelf, which was behind the counter. So I walked over there to pay for my milk. I said "good morning" in a very friendly voice to attract her attention. She looked up at me with a very annoyed look on her face (as if stocking the cigarettes is so much more important to the cashier's job than checking out a customer) and slooooowly got up. Then she checked me out with such lightning speed I was truly impressed. Her hands hit the cash register buttons faster than anyone I had ever seen and the milk was double bagged before I even saw her touch it. Wow!!! But then she shoved it towards me in a way that tangled up the plastic handles so it took me 5 seconds to pick it up. By that time, another customer was waiting behind me in line and had to wait those 5 seconds. So her checking out speed was wasted by actions and attitude. It also again decreased my customer experience.

In this case, both time and experience were hurt by poor employee attitudes. And in theory, this job could have easily been designed to achieve both, by having her smile a little. But I can envision many similar examples where it would have to be one or the other.

So two lessons here. In the actual situation, I think the pharmacy should train/motivate its employees a little more on customer experience even at the expense of a little speed on cash register and bagging skills. Its not too hard. I cover this in the last month of my work design course.

In the case where experience and speed conflict, I think the pharmacy could have easily determined that in an empty store, a smile adds much more to experience - and therefore to customer loyalty and eventual profit than 5 seconds at the register (they didn't have THAT many cigarettes that she needed to use all of her slack time stocking them). I cover this in the first month of my human factors engineering course.