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Adopting Lean Six Sigma for Customer Experience

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Customer experience professionals can adapt Lean Six Sigma principles to improve CX programs. Here's how.

Improving customer experience is on the radar of most organizations (we hope). And that even extends into the highest branches of federal government in the U.S., where officials admit there are many blockers to good CX for Americans.

“Americans expect Government services to be responsive to their needs,” Biden-Harris administration officials wrote last month. “But too often, people have to navigate a tangled web of Government websites, offices, and phone numbers to access the services they depend on.”

While the federal government is working on improving CX, private CX leaders like Katrina Schiedemeyer are, too. It’s just a matter of learning where to prioritize, she said.

“As the ever-changing customer experience landscape continues to become of upmost importance, it is no surprise many organizations are continuing to see an increase in prioritizing CX initiatives,” said Schiedemeyer, senior customer experience center of excellence with Danone. “While many organizations are prioritizing customer experience, it is often a challenge to determine which initiatives to focus on in the New Year.”

Infusing Six Sigma into CX Initiatives

Schiedemeyer does have a focus. She is prioritizing CX by leveraging traditional Lean Six Sigma concepts. Six Sigma is the focus on reducing defects within a product where 99.99966% of opportunities are defect-free, according to Schiedemeyer.

Six Sigma, trademarked by Motorola on Dec. 28, 1993, has roots in terminology associated with statistical modeling of manufacturing processes. A sigma rating can be applied to the level of maturity of a manufacturing process. It can produce information on its yield or the percentage of defect-free products it creates: “Specifically, within how many standard deviations of a normal distribution the fraction of defect-free outcomes corresponds to. Motorola set a goal of 'six sigma' for all of its manufacturing.” Decisions within a Six Sigma strategy are made “on the basis of verifiable data and statistical methods, rather than assumptions and guesswork.”

This concept is often used in the manufacturing industry to work on systematically reducing defects by leveraging statistics and tools like Regression Analysis and Failure Mode and Effect Analysis, according to Schiedemeyer.

Related Article: What Is Six Sigma and How Can it Help Marketers?

Six Sigma Vs. Lean Six Sigma

The distinction between Six Sigma and Lean Six Sigma has blurred, according to Foote Partners. The term "lean Six Sigma" is being used more and more often because process improvement requires aspects of both approaches to attain positive results.

Here’s how Foote Partners defines Lean Six Sigma and Six Sigma:

Lean Six Sigma is a fact-based, data-driven philosophy of improvement that values defect prevention over defect detection. It drives customer satisfaction and bottom-line results by reducing variation, waste, and cycle time, while promoting the use of work standardization and flow, thereby creating a competitive advantage. It applies anywhere variation and waste exist, and every employee should be involved.

Six Sigma is a method that provides organizations tools to improve the capability of their business processes. The increase in performance and decrease in process variation helps lead to defect reduction and improvement in profits, employee morale, and quality of products or services. Six Sigma focuses on reducing process variation and enhancing process control, whereas lean drives out waste (non-value-added processes and procedures) and promotes work standardization and flow.

Focusing on Regression Analysis and Failure Mode and Effect Analysis

So how does customer experience enter this picture? While Six Sigma is traditionally used in the automotive manufacturing industry, the concepts can be easily transferred to the customer experience industry, according to Schiedemeyer. “Imagine if 99.99966% of all customer service interactions were free of defect," she said. "Virtually every customer would return to your organization for more business and Net Promoter Scores (NPS) would be skyrocketing."

While Six Sigma is often a complex methodology filled with advanced statistics, two Six Sigma tools — Failure Mode and Effect Analysis — are excellent methods to introduce the merger of Six Sigma and customer experience into your organization, according to Schiedemeyer. She broke down how the two disciplines can be infused into CX:

Regression Analysis

A regression analysis often determines the amount of influence-independent variables, often known as input factors, have on a dependent variable, often known as the outcome. A regression analysis, Schiedemeyer added, looks at different contributors to an outcome and determines how much impact they have on the outcome.

For example, if an organization was trying to determine contributing factors to a customer’s overfall satisfaction, they may measure the following:

  • Speed of resolution
  • Ease of contact method
  • Overall solution satisfaction

“After conducting a regression analysis, the organization may determine the 'overall solution satisfaction' is two times as important as the 'ease of contact' and 'speed of resolution' is only half as important,” Schiedemeyer said.

The regression analysis would yield results as follows:

Learning Opportunities

Y(Customer Experience) = 2.0(overall solution satisfaction) + 1.0 (ease of contact method) + .5 (speed of resolution).

When determining which part of the customer experience to begin improving first, the organization will likely focus on improving their overall solution satisfaction before reducing the speed.

Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA)

A Failure Mode and Effect Analysis is a method to determine any potential subsystems that could cause a failure within a process and determine any of their causes and effects.

FMEA processes, Schiedemeyer said, follow a robust document to determine which inputs will cause the largest risk to overall system failure. While FMEA often looks to determine what manufacturing/machine failures would result in major risks, such as death, FMEA can be a useful tool to determine the overall failure modes to a bad customer experience, according to Schiedemeyer.

A FMEA worksheet (a simple internet search will yield many excellent FMEA templates), focuses on rating the likelihood of a failure and how catastrophic it is to an organization. Each failure mode’s impact to the organization is rated on a 1-10 scale (highly unlikely to happen to highly likely to happen). The organization also assigns a rating on how detrimental the failure mode would be to the organization (little impact to the organization to significant impact to the organization).

For example, Schiedemeyer said, an organization looking to assess the overall customer experience may take a look at understanding the following inputs to the overall satisfaction: how friendly the agent is, how empathetic the agent is and overall hold time.

When conducting their analysis the organization may determine the following:

Six Sigma Failure Mode
SMG

“This data will show the organization that they need to focus on improving agent friendliness before focusing on the other initiatives because it has the highest overall score,” Schiedemeyer said. “This tool is very useful to show an overall impact of each failure mode to the organization rather than just focusing on the overall impact. If the organization focused only on overall impact, they would focus on reducing hold times. However, because holds are unlikely to happen — this should not be the top focus of the organization.”

Related Article: What Does Good Enough Look Like in a Pandemic?

Six Sigma Potential for CX

This is just the start of demonstrating how various Six Sigma tools can be transformed to improve the overall customer’s experience. Decades of research have been conducted to showcase how beneficial Six Sigma is to the overall organization, according to Schiedemeyer.

“By transforming these tools to the CX industry,” she said, “organizations will be able to leverage existing knowledge to improve the customer’s experience in 2022.”