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Process and Change in Service Industries – The Survivor Challenge

February 1st, 2011

Outwit…Outplay…Outlast.  Wow, that says it all doesn’t it?  Reality TV is a kick. Throw a bunch of strangers onto an island and watch them dwindle down based on how well they can play to the desires of a group in a winner-take-all battle. Lots to learn from watching. How well and quickly can a player understand the group’s requirements? How well can they meet those requirements in a highly competitive situation? Each elimination changes the group’s dymanics so the requirements, competition and strategy all have to be adapted continuously and quickly. One slip up and you could be out. How does this relate to Service Industries?

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In previous articles, I’ve discussed how business and consumer patterns have gone through massive changes and how understanding the Voice of the Customer is the key to adapting to the new environment. The nascent recovery is providing an opportunity to survive and, for some businesses, to flourish. But the competition is still in the elimination phase and I believe that is very much the case for service businesses of nearly every nature.

It’s important to understand why things are different in services so as not to be lulled by more macroeconomic headlines. Before the crises, manufacturing went through years of driving productivity while services accelerated right up to the edge. The Federal Reserve’s strategy of depreciating the dollar and growing demand in emerging markets has helped the global competitive position and demand for manufacturing products while services are more tied to the domestic economy. Finally, we have a political environment that ramped regulation or restructured entire service industries such as banking and health care. And if that weren’t enough, services are going to be the start-ups of all the unemployed as they require less capital and can use the internet to gather and distribute information, the very essence of a services business, at a very low cost.

Change is not over in service businesses. Like Survivor, listening and adapting quickly to an ever changing customer is still the only protection from elimination. Several key points we consider imperative to driving alignment are:

  1. However you capture VOC, keep improving it. We propose a five level maturity model that goes from what you need to simply stay alive to what you need to be innovative.
  2. Balance how you respond to VOC with how you respond to other stakeholder demands. We have a checklist of behaviors that will give you the ammunition to point to an imbalance.
  3. Segment your VOC. Meeting every item your customer sets out for you will not yield a purchase while some will yield tremendous results. We offer a framework for segmentation.
  4. Convert what you hear to something you can measure. To make science out of art we use industry case studies and benchmarking as the best guide.
  5. Align process metrics to the chosen customer measures in #4 above. Again, use industry benchmarking and cases to apply knowledge and experience and avoid the alchemy.

Now you are ready to drive change. But there is one more thing. Let’s return to the scenario painted at the start of this article…it’s not enough to just do this. You must do it fast. We are rebounding but demand for services isn’t returning to 2006 levels…at least not until around 2016…and competition is increasing. During that time, businesses will fail, be acquired or be rationalized. But there will also be winners and, like Survivor, they will win big. We urge you to recognize what is coming and act.  Outwit…Outplay…Outlast.

If any of the pieces above would help you, let me know our thoughts.

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