Whom shall we serve?

By Ron Pereira Updated on August 18th, 2010

Lot, a reader of LSS Academy, recently sent the following question in.

“We are actually starting lean six sigma in our bank and I am in charge of the central processing unit of the HO. I am getting a bit confused as to who I should satisfy first and foremost. Should it be the client’s desire or my company’s desire to improve cost and efficiency?”

First, I am always excited to hear of non manufacturing organization’s taking the leap, so to speak, into the world of continuous improvement.

Whom shall we serve?

Now then… whom shall we serve? The customer or the company? The immediate response most probably expect me to say is, “Um, the customer.” I mean the customer pays the bills, right?

And, in the purest sense, I stand by this advice of serving the customer first and foremost.

Of course, this is easy for me to write even though most reading this also have a boss to please, objectives to meet, and a family to feed.  Right or wrong this is reality and those lost in text book theory need to crawl out from under their rock.

Going blind

<rant> Being blunt, I get annoyed with many of my fellow lean thinking pals who are so far removed from the “real world” that they forget life is more than PowerPoint training slides and 3 month consulting deals. </rant>

My advice

All this said… my recommendation is to – of course – ensure everything we do improves the customer experience. Doing anything else will do nothing but harm.

But we must also remember most Continuous Improvement practitioners also need to help their company prosper… even survive in some business climates.  This means cutting costs, reducing defects, etc.  Of course, one can argue this in turn helps the customer, right?

So, in the end, my advice is to never forget about the customer, as they ultimately keep you employed.

But, at the same time we must also ensure our efforts are also contributing to the long term success of the organization.

Both should work in harmony when done correctly.

What do you think?

This is my advice for Lot. Do you agree with it?  If so, why?  If not, why?

  1. Erin James

    August 18, 2010 - 11:47 am

    I agree the two approaches should complement each other and that one should not outrank the other.

  2. John Berk PhD

    August 19, 2010 - 6:46 am

    I also agree. In my experience, the two go hand-in-hand. Both are equally important, as stated in the article, and, as was also stated, there should be no basis of conflict, if the improvements are well conceived and executed.

  3. Randy

    August 19, 2010 - 8:43 am

    Looks like Lot has discovered his first project!! How to align the organizations goals / objectives with customers expectations. If this can not be accomplished I woulds question the organizations committment to continuos improvement, i.e. lean six sigma. Committment = Progress

  4. Bob

    August 20, 2010 - 4:52 am

    I feel going after pure costs are somewhat shortsighted and will only provide short term cost benefits, therefore should only be pursued in ‘survival’ situations.
    Adressing customer needs will lead to long term success and lower costs, so it’s a win-win in my opinion. Overall, I would educate my stakeholders and try to bring them around to this thinking, because in my experience they mandate ‘cut costs’ out of ignorance of some basic tenets of modern QA.

  5. Jari Kaarima

    September 7, 2010 - 12:18 am

    I must follow Bob on this one. I’m just doing some Lean transformation work in healthcare, and I’ve seen how very, very easily the perspective shifts towards a costs (only) driven one; which in turn blinds the view to customer value creation in the worst case! Ironic, but it’s true.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen how a “make-customer-value-focus-1st-no-matter-what!”-approach has ultimately resulted in significant cost savings due to Muda removal from the system without sacrificing customer value.

    So, while I agree both issues (value & costs) are important, going at it from a customer value creation point of view is at the same time the way to improve cost efficiency; which is actually a result, not a “means”.

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