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Selecting the right process for RPA

Selecting the right process for RPA (Robotic Process Automation)

By | Robotic Process Automation, RPA, Uncategorised

Well, with less than 5 months until we are celebrating Christmas, some organisations are thinking it has already come early, when they hear about RPA – Robotic Process Automation.

There are only so many hours in a day and trying to do more with less is a constant battle in many operations and other business areas. This is probably why I believe a lot of businesses are looking at RPA to help them achieve their ambitions.

RPA is seen by many as a cost-effective solution and maybe even as a ‘Silver Bullet’ to strip out cost. BUT, many need to be careful as automating a wasteful or ineffective process means you are still processing waste. However, without considering the entire system you may not even be optimising for the whole journey.

Many operational processes are suitable for automation such as the processing of claims or entering information into a database.

What is a bot & RPA?

A bot ultimately fulfils the role of a person completing repeatable tasks, the bot would log on and use your system(s) like a user. Automation of these manual activities means their execution will become quicker and less error prone, negating the need in most cases for rigorous checking. A bot could work 24/7 so no matter when your customer drives an activity a bot could respond.

Additionally it is important to understand what RPA is not meant for. This is ultimately automating tasks that are constantly changing, non-standardised, and unstable because they cannot be easily defined.

So, where should you begin?
What should you consider when choosing RPA as a solution specifically to achieve a meaningful outcome.

First off there are some questions you need to ask yourself:

  • Do you have rules based processes? That are data driven?
  • Are the inputs standard and digital? Or could they be?
  • How much volume do you process? Is it worth automating?

It is easy to look at bot deployment vertically in your organisation, picking off standalone processes. However, I think it is even more important to look horizontally along your customer journey to truly maximise the opportunities that you may have. Like anything though, a cost reduction is only delivered if you are processing more value-added activity with the same resource OR processing the same volume with fewer resource. Therefore, consideration of how you can actually realise the efficiency is key to continually improving and striving further.

So, in summary don’t go into RPA thinking purely about cutting costs, you always need to consider the whole and the impact on the customer and ultimately automating a wasteful process even more accurately, is still a wasteful process.

Have fun

lean thinking

This one thing can help get your process improvement approved

By | Lean Thinking, Problem Solving, Process Improvement

When you are looking at improving a process, we naturally look at all the benefits that the process improvement will deliver. It’s often necessary for a business case and to get buy-in/approval.

But the one thing we tend to neglect is looking at all the possible reasons why the process improvement shouldn’t be approved.

This is not a new concept – Edward De Bono, one of the world pre-eminent leaders around ‘thinking and creativity’ developed this concept much more fully in his 6 Thinking Hats method. You can find out more about this great tool here (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Thinking_Hats)

The Yellow Hat thinking and Green Hat thinking are almost always what we think about when completing process improvement. The Yellow Hat is all about brightness and optimism. Under this hat you explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. The Green Hat focuses on creativity, the possibilities, alternatives, and new ideas. It’s an opportunity to express new concepts and new perceptions.

We’re really good at thinking of the positive benefits of a process improvement. It would be rare to find a process improvement where this doesn’t naturally happen (probably could happen better though!).

Red Hat thinking and Black Hat thinking are almost the opposites of the Yellow and Green. The Red Hat is where we can consider emotional responses like fears, dislikes and hates. Black Hat thinking is about looking at all the thing that could go wrong – all the negative stuff.

When I’m preparing to talk to key stakeholders about a potential process improvement, I start to think about all the barriers that could possibly come up. For example, if I’m looking to change the way we handle customer service I start thinking about:

  • What might compliance have a problem with? Why would they be resistant? What arguments might they present to me to be opposed to the change?
  • What might the call centre object too? Are they worried it will drive call handling times up? Or drive more calls into the centre? Or maybe it will reduce calls and make the call centre smaller – thus reducing the perceived importance of the Call Centre Manager?
  • What might IT object too? Will it mean a new technology being implemented? Would their nose be out of joint because it wasn’t a technology that they suggested? Or maybe they don’t want to allocate resources? Perhaps it’s a reduction in control for them, reducing the operational dependence on them?

This is not an exhaustive list – but you get the idea. I try not to only focus on technical aspects – I also try to consider the emotional response they might have. Sometimes, the technical reasons why something won’t work is masking the truth, which is an emotional response.

Pretend reason – “I am really worried about the impact on the customer”

Emotional (real) reason – “I am worried that I will look stupid because it was my idea to handle customer service the way we currently do it”

Knowing the reason why someone may be opposed to an improvement does a few things:

  • It helps you think about what your response might be – rather than having to come up with a counter-argument right on the spot
  • It might change the way you engage with a person about an improvement

It goes without saying that a collaborative, inclusive approach to change also helps bring some of these barriers down. But even in that environment, you can get people who are negative or opposed to changing things. Understanding why is hugely important to the success of any change initiative.

It’s great that we’re thinking about all the positives that our process improvements can bring to bear.

It’s equally important that we start thinking about all the negative reasons too. If you spend just a little time thinking about this before meeting with stakeholders it may help reduce the barriers to change and improve your project delivery.

Next time you’re prepping for a meeting, pop on your red and black hats beforehand J

-Lean Consulting

How likely are you to recommend NPS to your friends and family?

By | Customer experience, Customer Satisfaction, NPS

I remember having a conversation a few years ago with a senior manager of a telecommunications company who declared “our happiest customer is the one who has a fault and then rings us” I challenged this at the time, “surely a happier customer is one who doesn’t have a fault”…… apparently, I was wrong, because the Net Promoter Score (NPS) told him this..

Is this right AND, should this drive our actions to improve our customers experiences in the future?

This has stayed with me over the last few years and I have been largely sat in silence trying to understand this further and exactly:

How has the NPS measure become so widely adopted?


What should it be used for vs. what is it actually used for?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the measure then:

The Net Promoter Score (NPS) measure:

It is an index ranging from -100 to 100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend your company’s products or services to others. It is to gauge the customer’s overall satisfaction with your company’s product or service and the customer’s loyalty to the brand.

Respondents are grouped into 3 buckets

  • ‘Detractors’ gave a score lower or equal to 6.
  • ‘Passives’ gave a score of 7 or 8.
  • ‘Promoters’ answered 9 or 10.

The actual Net Promoter Score (NPS) is determined by subtracting the percentage of customers who are detractors from the percentage who are promoters. What is generated is a score between -100 and 100. This is called the Net Promoter Score or NPS.

E.g.  if when surveyed, all of the customers gave a score lower or equal to 6, this would lead to a NPS of -100. On the other end, if all the customers were answering the question with a 9 or 10, then the total Net Promoter Score would be 100.

NPSLet’s consider this hypothetical situation, I am definitely not suggesting you start scoring the ‘office brew round’.

Whilst you are reading this you may have a cup of your favourite hot drink in front of you, So:

Have you ever had a cup of tea or coffee made for you by a colleague in the office, on a post it they write down each person’s choice or they try and remember it, before heading off to the kitchen to get to work.

Think about how likely you are to recommend them to make a cup for your friends and family? What score would you give them out of 10? And, what could they do what that score if you told them a few days afterwards?

What kind of things would you consider when scoring?

  • Was it too hot or cold?
  • Was the cup only half full (I’ve had a few made for me like that, who had the other half?)
  • Did it take too long to arrive?
  • Did it get spilled on your desk?
  • Was it too strong or weak?
  • Was it in your cup or one of the emergency ones from the cupboard?
  • Did they write your order down or remember it?
  • Did they smile when they asked you?

Etc etc.

If everybody who had a brew made for them by the same person scored, this would give that individual an overall NPS score, BUT, what could they actually do with that??


  • If this was the only person who made a brew and got scored – How do you know what a good score is?
  • Where would you/they look to target improvements? Trying to get someone who scored a 1 or a 2 to a 6? Is that a good improvement? It may be? but they are still a detractor so would not affect your NPS.

Ultimately the above example is to get you to think about when and where to use NPS or any measure, this example is over simplified but hopefully you understand what I am saying.

I don’t want you to think I am using this post to beat up the NPS metric, I genuinely believe it does add value BUT, it has to be used correctly.

Some positives about NPS

  • It is a common cross sector metric that may allow you to benchmark across individual sector and wider
  • It is easy to read – apparently that’s one of the main reasons for its popularity, I would argue that simplicity has also driven its misuse, due to the lack of actual understanding and people just try to improve the number any way they can!
  • It provides insight – yes it does
  • Its an overall measure of the brand – but not necessarily based on a single specific experience
  • A higher NPS generally correlates with growth and revenue

Why do we use NPS?

Why do we use NPS. This is a question I have often wondered and on a recent LinkedIn post of mine, it was also asked by a contributor, in my experience I have witnessed reason(s) for its use as:

  • A competitor has publicised their score so you need one
  • You need a measure for your CX programme
  • You want to drive your CX strategy with customer insight
  • You need a customer focussed measure for an individual’s bonus
  • Because you think it’s the right thing to do

Whatever the reason it has been chosen to be used, it should not be used without knowing what you want to get from it!

Please answer me this, is your NPS measure divorced from operational reality?  i.e. how much knowledge of the work do we understand or need to understand from your score? If you have ‘not a lot’ then could NPS drive leader’s decision without a true understanding of the operational issues? – Should they go and ‘get knowledge’ to support this?

Therefore truly understanding ‘why’ you are measuring and what you want from any measure is key!

Do leaders use NPS to drive the right behaviours?

Ultimately it depends on how you are using the measure as NPS is a measure of customer advocacy. So, a Net Promoter Score can and will give the Board and other teams an idea of the level of loyalty someone feels toward their product, service and brand.

I know some companies who reward individuals based on a Net Promoter Score, but is this fair for the individual? People confuse it for Customer Satisfaction when NPS is whole company measure……….Can individuals influence all the things customers perceive as their experience?

What we need to remember, NPS is measure of all of us, it is not really a measure of the individual personally….

There is an easy way to tell if someone is bonussed on NPS, situations like this occur:

Just before I finished writing this article, I had an issue with my broadband, at the end of the call the advisor said:

Lee, you may be asked to complete a survey at the end of this call is there anything I have done that would prevent you from answering a 10”.

My reply “just asking that question”. Silence and an apology followed before we ended the call.

I would say this is and there are other examples of bad practise. If you gather data this way how can you use it to drive the right behaviours?

NPS like most metrics are driven top down until they reach they actual worker. This results in them having to develop their own improvement strategy and the actions come from this, but are they the right ones??

NPSHow should you set up when using NPS

NPS if not used correctly can point you towards addressing an issue after it has failed, it may not point you towards the initial failure. So, what can you do to make measuring NPS successful?

As NPS is based on an opinion after the event from a %age of the population about their future intent to do business with you again. This measure by itself is not usable to drive improvement without some critical steps being put in place first, I would suggest:

  • Understand your organisations purpose
  • Understand who your customers are
  • Have clarity on the leaderships reasons for implementing a measure and what they want to achieve
  • Align your strategies incl. Employee Engagement strategy
  • Understand how you will get to the specific things that need to be acted on from your NPS score i.e. the root causes

If you currently measure NPS, how many of those 5 things do you have in place?

So, in summary:

NPS is a gauge of advocacy which allows for benchmarking and strategic positioning. But, to shift the dial operationally there are more granular measures that can identify the specifics needing to be worked on, and, Ultimately – Without the right buy-in and reasons for any measure you will really be up against it to make it successful!



About the author:

Lee Houghton is a Management Consultant for Lean Consulting. His 12 year multi sector background has provided him the opportunity to develop his approach of both CX & Improvement best practise to deliver real results.

How close are your Employee Engagement and Customer Experience Strategies?

By | Customer experience, Customer Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Lean Culture

Double acts have long been part of many peoples lives, from Morecambe & Wise, Penn & Teller or even Cake & Custard. These have each had their own success and in business there are two things that I believe you should look at together. Not as a comedy, magic act or dessert, but, together as one that can deliver you real bottom line results, if taken seriously. This double act is “Employee Engagement” and “Customer Experience”.

“To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup

There should be clear alignment between these two, let me explain further.

Many studies have shown that there is a strong link between an engaged workforce and a satisfied customer base. One of these studies conducted by CX Measurement Experts Foresee shows the correlation between these 2 measures:


Customer Experience and Employee Engagement graphThe link between Customer Experience and Employee Engagement provided by Foresee

If, Happy Employees = Happy Customers then, why do I still hear stories that are part and parcel of some organisations DNA today, they command and control, or rule by fear yet outwardly express their desire to satisfy customers.

Have you ever worked in an organisation where the person who normally sits next to you is not in today with the reasons unknown? Then a few weeks later a “pursuing other opportunities” email hits your inbox late one Friday afternoon.

Consider how this makes or would make you feel?

And, how did/would you feel during those few weeks? Worried about your colleague and your own job? more than putting the customer at the fore of your mind?

This is just one example and hopefully a rare one.

Other examples of ways to see the strain on employees, is the level of unpaid overtime or working many hours to “get the job done”. I have been guilty of this and at times still am. This should not be an expected state each day or week and should be the exception.

What do employees want?

A lot of organisations I have asked, have an annual employee engagement survey to understand how engaged their workforce is. Is this enough? and how can you truly understand how engaged your people are if you ask them once a year. Some organisations even measure managers on completion rates of these surveys. Are you really getting the truth from your people? I would say not and suggest:

Ask often and ensure a safe environment is provided for the feedback

Reward and recognition features high in most “wants” from employees when asked. This does not have to always be monetary and in some instances a ‘thank you’ is enough. When was the last time you said it to each member of your team?

You may think that some don’t deserve it. If not, why do they not? Is there anything about the environment they work in that is driving their behaviour?

Richard Branson Employee Engagement

The parallel between Employee Engagement and Customer Experience Strategies

As an organisation you need to ensure there is a parallel with your employee engagement strategy and your customer experience one. You cannot and should not really have one without the other, if you genuinely want to be customer centric. Unless that is you are just after a badge or Customer Experience (CX) certificate to stick on your fridge.

The actions you deliver are a truer measure of success. It is generally perceived the most impactful Customer Experience actions to deliver are systemic ones e.g. a new website or a new computer system. I would however encourage as much, if not more effort needs to go on the cultural and process improvements to really deliver you lasting results.

The way people in your organisation are treated can manifest itself as a direct reflection on your overall performance. What I am not saying  is give everyone a pay rise, but, create an environment that allows them deliver for your customers.

You may be a senior leader or manager. If so, your employees could be your customers, and as my mum always told me “treat people as you would want to be treated yourself”, is that too much to ask for everyone?

Who wins the employee or the customer?

It is a complete win-win situation. Whilst engaged employees lead to satisfied customers, the opposite is also true. Satisfied customers play a large role in employee engagement.

Positive customer experiences and showcasing these back to employees is vital especially those responsible for delivering that specific experience. This can reinforce how employees feel about the value and purpose of their work. If done correctly it can also motivate them to continue to deliver to this level.

Don’t forget though, as I am talking about acting on a plan another thing that can impact employee engagement is how you approach change. Change is uncomfortable for many people. Whether the first day you go to school or any act that challenges your comfort levels needs to be managed carefully.

A few pointers on how to effectively deal with change for the employees.

• You need to clearly articulate WHY there is a need for change but not from the perspective of the business, WHY is it better for the individual. These messages may need to be adapted for different levels or areas of the business, but, it needs to be centric to the individual receiving the message.

• Be inclusive where possible, I am a big believer in “the person who does the work knows most about it”, therefore why not include them in the discussions and development. Where possible also include customers to ensure what you develop is fit for the employee and meets the specific needs of your customer.

What is needed to succeed?

So, with both Employee Engagement and Customer Experience, I believe the 4 critical success factors are:

1. A shared vision
2. Ask often
3. Analyse results
4. Act with purpose

Is this anything to do with Lean?

Respect for people” and “Continuous Improvement” are the key principles of Lean. A simple definition for the ‘Respect for people’ principle cannot fully capture its meaning. However, “People” is not just employees. Above I talk about 2 different sets of people both customers and employees, but you need to consider all people whether they be employees, suppliers, customers, communities, and competitors – ultimately anyone.

Ultimately ensure your system/process is aligned to deliver maximum value for all ‘people’.

Therefore, aligning your Employee Engagement and Customer Experience strategies are ultimately the key to your organisations success.

Finally, if after reading this you are confused like me as to why businesses are not taking this more seriously. Then let’s talk. Or even better, let’s get together and figure out what we can do about it. Contact me at Lee.Houghton@leanconsulting.com or via my LinkedIn profile

Rag status

What is a good RAG status …..50 Shades of Green?

By | Leadership, Measures

I woke up this morning to a memory of an old friend. I was supporting him within a large UK banking organisation when he had a ‘moment’. There we were, in front of a team of senior managers and, for whatever reason the red mist descended. His emotions had got the better of him, due to the apparent lack of action from the senior leadership team. He angrily blurted out “Do you know what it’s like managing here… 50 shades of green!”. This was around the time everyone had read the book and had started flocking to the cinema to watch “50 Shades of Grey”. I thought “wow, what a statement!” but what did he actually mean?

It’s important to understand, the RAG status was the way the bank measured itself. My old friend was sick and tired of hearing how everything is green, and yet, we have failing SLA’s, poor customer feedback, high attrition of staff, poor retention of customers, but hey, everything’s green. ‘

Which means either the figures are being fudged or far more likely – THEY ARE NOT THE RIGHT MEASURES TO BEGIN WITH.

Here success was about everything being green and if you had a measure that wasn’t ‘green’, then as a leader your job was to make up a plausible reason as to why it wasn’t green, often despite whatever difficulty really made it red. This behaviour is something we call ‘Managing the measures’. Instead of managing the business and servicing customers, we’re managing the measures. Everything is green as the ship is slowly sinking.

Is a RAG status a good measure?

I’m sure there are times when it could be appropriate. But generally speaking, is it sufficiently complex enough to drive leaders into action on their system? Does it help them understand where and how should they act if, god forbid, they had a proper ‘red’? And more importantly, do your measures reflect what really matters to the organisation?

This is a fundamental part about the way we approach ‘measures’ at Leanconsulting.com. We need measures that drive the right behaviour in leaders, A RAG status really isn’t clever enough to make itself leadership proof. This is why we help our clients discover ‘better measures’, ones that illuminate the customer journey, ones that make it obvious for leaders to make the correct customer service decisions upon. That way, the measures are leadership proof and customer centric.

Thanks for reading. We are Lean Consulting, this is what we do, transforming your business to focus on the journeys of your customer.


Andrew McLean

Every time i access the NHS it's painful & wasteful

Every time I access the NHS it’s painful & wasteful

By | Customer experience, Customer Service, Lean Thinking
On Tuesday I had a flare up of an ailment I sometime get (once or twice a year) in my foot. A simple medicine takes care of it – but it requires a prescription.

Irritatingly, I went to take my medicine to find I only had 1 or 2 pills left. On Wednesday, I called by doctors surgery to ask if they can give me another prescription for the medicine. They’ve prescribed it before and it’s not a very dangerous class of drug. Read More

5 tools I never leave home without

5 tools I never leave home without!

By | Lean Techniques, Lean Thinking, Process Improvement
I see plenty of lists containing tools and techniques used in Lean Six Sigma projects. I don’t always agree with every item on every list but that can often come down to a matter of opinion. The lists I see are general to the term Lean Six Sigma so I thought I’d offer up a quick list of the Lean Six Sigma tools I believe fit really well into Service improvement (not manufacturing). Read More