'Lean Thinking' in Africa
Q1: As one of the first researchers to introduce lean concepts into South Africa, where did your journey begin?
I joined the UCT Graduate School of Business in 1981. Having had no intention of staying long-term, I got involved in some interesting work and decided to do a PHD in an area that might generate some extra income - productivity and what characterizes highly productive companies. Searching for companies to research, Toyota was the obvious choice; they had become number one in the South African marketplace and had won two consecutive national productivity awards. Over a period of 8-9 months, I interviewed a wide range of people, and ultimately received over 400 questionnaires back. In the process, I got an in-depth look at Toyota South Africa, which had no Japanese share holding. However, 2 years prior to my research, the Manufacturing Director had been invited to Japan to do a course in the Toyota Production System (TPS) and he came back a raving lunatic for zealot, but was only partly effective in infecting his organization with what he had learnt. I did a lot of work with him and one day asked “what is the TPS?” to which he answered “it’s a system for creating thinking people”, which has remained with me as one of the best one-liners yet. It’s not a bunch of tools that you apply through technicians; it has the objective of creating thinking people around purpose and value.
Q2: Having gained a close-up view of Toyota South Africa at a point when the firm was just beginning to learn about the lean concept, where did you go from there?
As a Professor at the UCT, I taught everything I learnt as I went along, and one of my part-time MBA students in the class of 1985/86 was doing a thesis on the TPS. Having lost his job, he started a consulting company around what I was teaching, and later hired 3 more of my MBA graduates. Around 1990, they asked me to join them in the firm. But to give us a different kudos, asked that I remain a professor. So I had a foot in both doors. Around that time, I initiated a Manufacturing Roundtable, which had 12 member companies that paid a membership fee to request research that would improve their competitiveness. Through this, I was linked to Boston University Manufacturing Roundtable, which in itself was involved in a global network with 10 other universities doing a manufacturing strategy survey in up to 20 countries every 2 years.
Q3: At that time, South Africa was going through a lot of political changes, how did South African manufacturers respond to the lean concept?
They had been protected from global competition and up to that point there had been no pull from the industry to improve productivity. But within days of the February 1990 announcement that Nelson Mandela would be released and the ANC unbanned I got calls from companies wanting to talk about competitiveness. One of those companies was SAB (South African Breweries). The consultancy had been very effective in developing standardized best practice, which is a cornerstone of lean, and packaging it particularly for companies in commodity production. So the consultancy went global and is now working in over 55 countries worldwide with a brilliant list of current and past clients, including Coca-Cola, New Zealand Dairy and BT in Africa.
Q4: Having recently explored the application of Lean principles to the healthcare sector, what changes have you seen?
About 8 years ago, I exploited my past medical students to conduct experiments in hospitals. To me, public healthcare was a special case of public service delivery. So over the years we’ve managed to accumulate some really excellent examples of getting quick and sustained improvements in very poorly resourced hospitals through applying lean practices. For example, a hospital we worked with reported that when needing to access a patient’s file, they were unable to do so 40% of the time. Through lean, we halved that missing files rate, then one of my MBA students reduced the missing files incident to 0 within 3 months, with massive benefits to the hospital and a wonderful impact on staff.
Q5: In what way are you looking to promote the adoption of lean in African organizations?
We ran the Lean Summit of Africa in 2007, which was outrageously successful. Then we registered the non-profit Lean Institute of Africa, and have now been admitted to the Lean Global Network, which has 16 non-profit institutes. We’re also talking to quite significant political leaders in the public sector, but it’s a long-term process of creating the ‘what if’ evidence that says lean works. Lean improves service delivery, lowers production costs, and is hugely people empowering - ultimately it sets people up for success.
Lean Summit of Africa: www.lean.org.za
Lean Global Network: www.leanglobal.org
Re-defining the economics of CX in the new customer journey
There’s no shortage of customer service channels for the enterprise to select from today. Regardless of the many new metrics that have emerged – such as customer success, or empathy – cost reduction is still a primary driver in selection criteria.
There are many articles dedicated to how companies can turn customer service and customer experience (CX) from a cost to a revenue centre. The problem is, if you stop there and don’t look beyond cost reduction, you’re limiting the scope for CX to become an even bigger economic contributor in the enterprise.
There is every opportunity for customer service and CX to significantly influence the front end of business, particularly amongst direct-to-consumer subscription-based products and services, such as popular streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, as well as sports subscription services like DAZN.
In these products and services and others, there are new customer journeys that may drive business growth and revenue. They start earlier and may last a lifetime, so getting things right at the start of the journey is key so that customers have the best experience from day one.
Not only will this help in making customers less likely to reach out for issues-based support further down the line, but these customers will be much less likely to churn, and much more likely to take up new services as they are offered throughout the lifetime journey.
So, what does the new customer journey look like for these services?
Opportunity waiting for the likes of Netflix & Disney
While consumers may have previously regarded customer service as a way to mitigate the inconveniences in their lives, the customer journey is expanding in scope every day. Today there are many more touchpoints available that put CX in a position to drive revenue.
For one-off purchases, traditional CX deployments have not changed significantly in the past few years. However, if you look at the change in the CX relationships we’re seeing with subscription-based products and services, particularly media-based streaming services, it’s clear that these companies lead what quickly become very multifaceted relationships with their customers. These have serious potential to evolve over time for increased economic benefit.
For any sort of subscription-based business, customer lifetime value is paramount, and the requirement to actively manage a continued positive customer experience is critical.
Every interaction is an opportunity, and every data point is a chance to offer more value. Introductory offers can convert to longtime customers. Longtime customers may take up opportunities to upgrade to more premium products or services. They may also appreciate incentives to invite family and friends to become customers. Consumers who like a particular service, for example, may appreciate a recommendation for another similar or complimentary service.
It all starts with customer interaction, and the customer experience journey becomes an opportunity to strategically affect the user base and resulting revenue - which is a far cry from the limitations of call center cost reduction or churn metrics.
How do companies support the new customer journey?
More and more, customers look at the new customer journey as engaging with brands as part of their lifestyles. Many companies are making brand ambassadors available before the traditional customer journey even starts, which is a marked change from a purely transactional relationship associated with a one-off purchase.
These ambassadors, who are often independent users of products or services, are providing trusted pre-sales advice, and that same trusted advice can also function to nurture the customer journey in a subscription-based relationship. Call it ‘GigCX’ or ‘crowdsourced customer service’ or even ‘peer-to-peer customer service’ - it doesn’t matter.
The key is in providing impartial, trusted advice from real users. Think about it: who would you rather get advice from? Someone who has used a product or service extensively, or someone who has been trained to provide customer service surrounding that product or service?
For services such as streaming media, advice from trusted experts with real product know-how could be invaluable. This may not be limited to technical issues, such as what to do when you can’t access your favourite show, or how to access services across various devices. It could be parents helping other parents who are concerned about how to restrict adult content from child viewers, or simply customers who have similar taste in programming who can comment on the benefits of upgraded or premium products. The point is, these experts are easily available at any touchpoint in the customer lifetime journey, creating more chances to add value.
It’s also about tipping customers from ‘passive’ to ‘promoter’ in the NPS scale. It’s an opportunity to turn neutral customers who may be vulnerable to competitive offerings into loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and referring others, fuelling growth. It may ultimately help drive even further revenue by creating customers that are helping to sell the brand itself.
And, while chatbots and automation may play a key role, they are often not able to handle the more complex support needed in the new customer journey. Conversational AI is rarely as conversational as it claims to be, and in the new customer journey, most companies are finding that a mix of automation and people-centric service is an ideal way to nurture the many new touchpoints created.
It’s no longer about trying to replace human capital with automation: it’s about orchestrating a uniquely personalised CX, and proactively engaging during the customer lifecycle to enhance the experience, and to create more long-term value.
At the moment, we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the power to affect the economics introduced by the new customer journey. We’ll no doubt see this evolve rapidly particularly amongst streaming companies as they use human-centric connections in CX to support the full potential of customer lifetime value.
About Roger Beadle
Roger Beadle is an entrepreneur and business leader who is reinventing how customer service is delivered via the gig economy. After establishing several businesses in the contact centre industry, Roger co-founded Limitless with Megan Neale in 2016. Limitless is a gig-economy platform that addresses some of the biggest challenges faced by the contact center industry: low pay, high attrition and access to new talent. Previously, Roger and Megan helped to build one of the largest privately-owned outsourced contact center business in Europe, before selling the business to the global conglomerate Hinduja Group. Roger is an outspoken proponent of digital ethics, worker’s rights and the ‘good-gig:’ which encapsulates gig work for incremental pay versus full time work, skilled gig work, no unpaid time/downtime and zero expenses.
Named a Rising Star at Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 program, Limitless is a gig customer service platform, combining crowdsourcing and AI to help global businesses address their biggest customer service challenges – rising costs, increasing attrition, variability in demand and the need for diversity. Brands like Microsoft, Unilever, Daily Mail Group and Postmates are using Limitless’ SmartCrowdTM technology to connect with their most engaged customers, and reward them for providing on-demand customer service that can flex in line with demand. Limitless is one of the world’s first global tech platforms to introduce localised platform terms to protect the rights of its gigging workers. Backed by AlbionVC, Downing Ventures and Unilever Ventures, Limitless is empowering people worldwide to earn money for providing brilliant customer service for the brands they love.