Customer Experience and Lean Six Sigma can be bedfellows

Last week, I have had a few conversations with IT Advisors and CRM practitioners around the merits of using Lean Six Sigma while approaching customer and IT transformation projects. On the surface, Lean Six Sigma (LSS) and Customer Experience can only be two dramatically opposite ends of the spectrum. Traditionally, Lean and Six Sigma have been synonymous with Manufacturing and in the Operational Excellence space which is seen as being number driven, while Customer experience is seen as a people driven exercise. So does it have a role in the Customer Experience or IT Advisory space?

A few years ago, I was a non believer myself. Last year, we trained some of our Customer Experience Consultant in Lean Six Sigma techniques. As a green belt consultant, I can now safely say that Lean Six Sigma provides a lot of tools that can be used in the CRM and IT advisory space. We have leveraged some Lean Six Sigma tools while building our Customer Experience Transformation toolkit. Incidentally, last year Capgemini successfully led the largest implementation of Lean Six Sigma with the Government & Public sector in the UK. So let us look at a few areas of overlap.

Transforming customer experience is predicated on having the ability to understand customer needs. LSS techniques like Voice of the Customer provides tools that can help capture customer needs. Such tools help gain a thorough understanding of customers’ needs, through the jobs customers are trying to do and the outcomes they desire from doing them. It will help discover what customers really value and how satisfied they are with your ability to deliver value. Similarly Voice of the Business and House of Quality can provide tools that marry customer and business needs while mapping a ‘Customer Journey’ can build on Value Stream Mapping techniques. Removing muda or waste is central to Lean; it is a no brainer that customer facing processes will gain a lot by removing non-value activities.

While implementing a new IT system for e.g. CRM, it can be debated if one needs to use LSS techniques to improve the process first and then implement the system or implement the IT solution and then improve the process. There does exist a middle path of using the software package to help re-engineer the organisation. Most large enterprise software generally provide out of the box best practice capability that can be used to redesign business processes. My opinion is that clients gain more by first optimising process efficiencies and then implementing IT changes – though these can be done as part of a single umbrella programs.

So while it can be argued that Lean Six Sigma provides tools that companies can use along with their IT changes, it is important that managers buy into the whole idea. Unfortunately, Lean and Six Sigma have a reputation of being leveraged as a cost-cutting or a number crazy exercise. In reality, they can be used as a very effective toolsets to drive IT and Customer Experience change, which delivers a cost-effective, low waste generating yet customer friendly solutions.

(This blog appeared in Capgemini’s Customer Experience Blog in Jan 2010)


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