Monday, March 8, 2010

Systems Versus Creativity

Interesting dilemma... Are systems for handling situations and creativity mutually exclusive?

Here is the situation.

One of my vendors informed me that we needed to send in photos of defective parts to get replacements. Makes sense. They need to protect their costs by knowing that they are replacing only that which needs to be replaced.

Our first customer to have a problem after this policy began lived over an hour away. They had flaws in the product that, while usable, were not what they had paid for. It was a special order item so we would need to order new parts for them, no matter which ones were damaged. So we asked if they would kindly take some digital photos and email us to save us a 140 minute round trip. They did and the parts were ordered.

The second customer was a mile away and had ordered an in-stock item. When she called with a problem, we asked her to send photos, which upset her. Why should she have to send photos? Why couldn't we come out there and snap them ourselves? Heck, why couldn't we bring her a replacement and take the photos when we got back to the store?

Good question.

The solution to the first problem was not necessarily the exact way to handle the second problem.

Our mistake was that we implemented a system of "hows" before answering all the "who, what, where, when" and most importantly "why".

How do we get a replacement part? By sending photos to the company. Who takes the photos? Anyone. Why did we ask the first customer to take the photos? Because she was over an hour away and we would need to order the replacement no matter what. Why did we ask the second customer to take photos? Because that's how we did it the first time. Do you see the flaw in this thinking?

Before you implement a new system, make sure you carefully point out why you do things a certain way, and what the ultimate outcome should be. And empower your staff to use their imagination and creativity to come up with solutions that make the customer happy while following the spirit of the system.

-Phil

PS The very next day the second customer had a replacement, we had photos to send, and everyone lived happily ever after.

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