Exponential change vs. incremental improvement

As we turn the calendar to a new year, we tend to take a look at our lives and make some goals for improvement. Maybe it involves fitting in our favorite pair of jeans again or finally starting the next great American novel. Change and improvement are second nature in our personal lives. But how about our customer strategies?

Most marketing professionals would agree they’d like to reach their customers in memorable and effective ways. They’d like to produce more effective campaigns or deliverables. And they’d like to do everything faster. However, the hurdles to achieving these goals can be daunting. It requires a new way of thinking and a new level of teamwork. The easy solution is to color within the lines, not make waves and keep doing what you’ve been doing. But is that really the best way? Not according to motivational guru, Tony Robbins:

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

I think there are two distinct, but related, paths to follow as you go about achieving your goal of betterment – exponential change and incremental improvement. Either path will help your organization, but only one has the potential to take it to a new level.

Baby steps or giant leaps?

I love the story of the Nashville location of a high-end hotel chain that wanted to improve its overall customer satisfaction rate. One of the metrics that was holding it back was the average time it took to deliver guest’s luggage to the room after check-in – a whopping 122 minutes! A challenge was extended to the bellhop staff: Find a way to get that key metric down to 15 minutes, with no new hires.

The bellhop staff could have found small ways to incrementally drive the time to 115 minutes, then 105 and even 90 minutes – more than a 25 percent increase. But that’s still an hour and a half of you waiting in your room for your bags to arrive. And that’s probably not going to drastically change the customer satisfaction rate.

Instead, the bellhops scrapped the way bags were being delivered and devised a new plan to better utilize service elevators and spread out staff to receive bags on each floor of the hotel. It was a plan that had never been tried at the hotel, but led to an exponential change – and an amazing time improvement. After a little bit of fine-tuning, the average bags-to-room delivery time shrunk to 15 minutes!

What’s the lesson here? In order to cause a monumental change in the way things are done, you sometimes have to make an exponential shift. A new way of approaching a problem can lead to new ideas and a drastic improvement. Maybe it’s something you whiteboarded in a moment of fleeting inspiration. Take the time to examine those ideas in 2013 and take a chance on a new idea!

Don’t forget about continual improvement

Some will ask, “But shouldn’t we always try to improve, even if it’s just a little bit?” The answer is a resounding “yes,” but don’t let a little improvement stand in the way of your exponential change. Instead, make the change and then look for ways to get a little better.

In the world of manufacturing, there is a common phrase called “Kaizen.” It’s a Japanese term meaning “improvement” or “change for the better.” It’s a concept that’s also been used in other areas of business and involves the whole organization to improve processes or business practices. I once worked for a manufacturer that scheduled regular “Kaizen events” to examine how to become more efficient at a certain process. Sometimes it involved moving key components closer to the assembly area. Other times the goal was to assure there were no hiccups in production by looking at the amount of on-hand, in-stock items. The plant manager and workers alike would be involved in the event. It was a team effort to squeeze every last ounce of efficiency into the process.

After you have made your exponential change, look for opportunities to tweak things to become even more efficient. You could even schedule your own Kaizen event. Just make sure the evidence doesn’t show up on Facebook. And if you have doubts, let’s give the final word to Mr. Robbins:

“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”

tags: change, change management, customer satisfaction, improvement, marketing strategy

2 Comments

  1. Posted January 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

    Nice. Sounds a bit like Einstein's definition of insanity.

  2. Scott Batchelor Scott Batchelor
    Posted January 11, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Thanks, Phil.

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