Category Archives: Service Improvement Hall of Fame Nominees

Are you taking value for granted?

 I frequently state that people don’t need technology, they need the results that technology provides. Here is a great example where the value of the efforts of esighteyewear engineers is difficult to measure, but you'll know it when you see it.

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A Refreshing Experience at a Great Company

 Why is it so difficult these days to find businesses that care about their customers?

I asked myself this question again today as I visited stores and shops looking for a few simple brackets that used to be available at every corner hardware store. The responses that I got ranged from people trying to one-up me with their technical knowledge without first attempting to understand the problem, to treating me (the customer) as if I was a nuisance. One counter clerk even exhaled with a heavy sigh when my request dislodged him from his stool located away from the service counter, as if this was one of the hardest things he had ever had to do at the end of a very long day, yet it was only 10:am!!

On a positive note, I did receive a tip to go to a shop that would actually make exactly what I needed, made to my specifications right on the spot while I waited. It sounded too good to be true but it was worth a shot.

When I arrived at Malmberg Truck Trailer Equipment LTD., located in Ottawa Canada, two smiling faces behind one of the service counters greeted me. The place reminded me of a mechanic’s version of an indoor shopping mall, or perhaps a farmers market. I was directed down a hallway lined with little shops. One sign said brakes. The one that I was looking for was the spring shop. Each shop was equipped with whatever they needed to complete their work, whether it be remanufacturing break components, or as was the case with the spring shop, manufacturing the brackets that I needed for my project.

The whole experience reminded me of my visit to a recreation of a western town, and now I was in the blacksmith shop, except it had modern tools. I placed my order and the man went to work manufacturing the eight brackets, and then as part of his quality control step, manually adjusting with his hammer and anvil to make a perfect fit. Start to finish my visit took less than twenty minutes. 

I reflected on my own work helping organizations move in this direction of focusing on providing value to the customer rather than performing tasks and complaining. I thought about a quote I had read in a book, and it seemed to apply

“It is no harder to build something great than to build something good. It does not require more suffering than perpetual mediocrity" - Jim Collins, Good to Great

As I continued my journey through the Malmberg shop and stopped at the cashier, I was prepared to hear a phrase that, like many people I have grown tired of hearing when I thank someone for his or her service. But the phrase “no problem “ was not what I heard. I never expect to be a problem. Thankfully, the man at the Malmberg cash register did not use that phrase. Instead of me being his problem, he was more concerned with solving my problem, which the Malmberg team had. One of the other employees heard me comment on how refreshing their attitude towards customers was. He enthusiastically offered that they are each very aware that no customers means no pay cheque.


 As written here, this story may not have the impact on you as it did on me that day, but whenever I begin to get discouraged by complacency within the teams that I am hired to improve, I will think back to this day and how refreshing it is to walk in to a place where everyone already gets it. At Malmbergs the focus is on the customer, whether it be an external customer walking in off the street, or an internal customer such as the truck repair shop just down the hall from the brake shop or the spring shop.

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Continual Improvement or Continual Erosion?

When I work with organizations to improve their ability to deliver services there are two acting forces that I typically encounter:
1. Inertia
2. Erosion

Inertia is an objects resistance to change. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. This rule applies equally to People.

My definition of erosion describes objects continually trying to return to the earth. Erosion applies equally to riverbanks and service improvements. Cars are another example. Cars are made out of steel, steel is made from iron ore, and iron ore is found in the dirt. If you leave a car alone long enough it will turn to dirt.

Many improvement initiatives are temporary and return to dirt. Here is one example that I captured using time lapsed photography:

In photo one, you can see the results of an improvement initiative one organization used to decrease the time it takes as well as reduce the errors that occur when connecting equipment. Attaching coloured dots to each connection to indicate which wire goes where, and then documenting the configuration makes their setup process more efficient and effective.


This improvement initiative provided positive results and apparently had enough inertia to remain unchanged for quite some time. Inevitably erosion set in. Picture 2 was taken years later, and it appears that quite a bit has changed.



It takes a trained eye to notice the difference, but those of you with advanced skills will not only spot the change in markings, but also the rogue letter escaping from its cable. Improvement ideas are like baby sea turtles. Once they are hatched they immediately begin their journey. This little number has already begun its journey to return to the earth. If all goes as planned, in a few weeks it likely will likely turn to dirt and get swept up in a dustpan.

What you have just witnessed is a true story that I uncovered as I walked the halls of one organization. How did this happen? Perhaps someone ran out of coloured dots at some point? Was the erosion slow and gradual, or was there a specific event that triggered the change? Perhaps a second improvement opportunity suggested by a worker afflicted with colour blindness caused this change?

Improvements are not the type of thing that you can set and forget. You have to be constantly trying to improve. Changes must be evaluated in some way to see if they are likely to make the situation better or worse, and then measured once the change has been made. When you stop improving, erosion is inevitable.

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Elite Mazda in Gatineau offers higher value.


Q – Why is this picture relevant to this blog?

A – Because it illustrates service and focus on services rather than systems.

I have written about this many times before and it is the subject of one of my upcoming books. It is also one of the root causes of so many service problems that I am asked to help organization’s overcome.

In this instance, the business of the bus company has many facets, not simply running busses around town. The busses are the hardware, but without bus routes they would wander aimlessly or remain parked.

Why are those routes necessary? Ask the city planners, not the bus maintenance workers.

How can the bus service become more efficient? Ask the drivers, the maintenance workers and the city planners. Don’t forget to ask the customers.

How the bus company can maintain low rates is one example of the affects of efficiency, but there is a second facet. Increased revenues from other sources can offset expenses.

The bus in front of me supports two services. One service is designed to meet the rider’s needs, and the other to meet the needs of the advertiser (in this case a car dealer seeking a return on their investment).

The car dealer has taken a similar approach to growing their business and increasing profitability. The dealer has designed a service to compliment the selling of cars, and that is the service of performing oil changes so that the car owner does not have to get dirty. To entice car owners to take advantage of maintenance services, the have launched a new service to care for the car owner’s other maintenance needs. By bundling these two services as depicted in the advertisement, they hope to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

It isn’t about the bus mechanics or the car mechanics or the hair stylists. It is about the customer and their needs (which in turn drives demand for mechanics and hair stylists).

Some customers may choose to go to Renaldo, the upscale hair stylist in town. Other customers have sales meetings to attend or they don’t get paid (but still need their personal maintenance needs attended to so are good candidates for this package of combined services).

Customers have different profiles, and services must be designed to meet their needs, not the needs of the workers to stay employed. If you don’t know who your customers are, or what your customer facing services are, I wonder why you are employed in the first place? Will business dry up tomorrow and your job be taken away? Who knows? I certainly don’t but you should know where the business is heading.

Service improvement IS work of higher value and those improvements might be in cost, quality, time or a variety of other benefits dependent on the strategic direction. How can you multiply your own value the way this Mazda dealer has?


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Apple DNA – Remembering Steve Jobs

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