A recent project bringing together the best of Six Sigma and Lean at the help desk of a financial services firm in India yielded significant results in reduced customer response time as well as enhanced productivity.

Six Sigma Help DeskAt the same time, it gave employees a solid grounding in the use and benefits of Six Sigma process improvement methodologies.

A senior management team at the company chose the help desk project after it explored more than 25 issues with critical-to-quality characteristics for improved customer service.

Senior managers assigned a cross-functional team to undertake the Six Sigma project by focusing on three areas. The team was charged with growing an understanding of the voice of the customer in relation to the help desk, and what caused customer dissatisfaction or poorly delivered customer service. The final charge was to develop and test ideas utilizing Lean methodologies that would help reduce customer-waiting time and improve satisfaction.

The Customer Voice

The customer’s voice was put into the context of three influences over customer satisfaction.

One was what it means to “close” calls: Is it sufficient to respond and promise to follow up at some point soon, or is resolution the point? The latter was seen as most important to customers, and thus led to call response time being the focus of the project’s first phase.

A complicating factor was that departments not participating in the project still played important roles in both causing delays in response times and/or in resolving issues. This fact of varying service standards ultimately shaped the project scope and led to important fixes of some of the causes for delay.

Finally, different types of calls take different amounts of time to resolve – with categories defined from less than two, less than five and less than seven days.  The average time (measured for more than a month) for the most common type of call was calculated at 12.7 days. The goal was set of reducing it to less than two days, or to decrease the time by 85 percent.

The team also needed to understand what customers wanted to know in order to design effective fixes. Typically, this translated into “when” questions – when will the problem get resolved? – and “what” questions – what’s the problem? The implicit question of “why,” however, was key to the project given the help desk’s reliance on other departments for speedy answers.

Putting in the Fix

The team looked to Lean methods to cut the waiting time, analyzing three key elements: arrival time of customer calls; how long of a wait there was for information; and the time it took to process the call.

From there, the existing process map was developed and analyzed as the basis for developing one that was more effective. It showed itself as a confused mass of communication lines between customers, help desk, customer care supervisor, operating personnel and even the supervisor’s boss, who in one month had to close 425 calls (15 percent of the total) himself.

A more effective process would involve only the customer, the help desk and the operating personnel.

On that basis, a plan for improvement was developed:

  • The average response time was measured
  • Over a two-day period, staffers took care of the call backlog
  • Calls in the queue were answered on a first-in/first-out basis
  • “Difficult” calls were swept routinely each day
  • Root causes of calls taking over two days were examined
  • Calls requiring operating personnel assistance were assigned to them in “flow.”

The first two weeks saw a slow start, as backlogs were cleared and new routines established. By the third and fourth weeks, a 66% reduction in customer wait times spoke to the dramatic change underway at the firm.

Post-Six Sigma results of an 85% reduction were achieved as the fifth and sixth weeks advanced. This meant that the same staff upped its productivity by over 140%, now handling 250 calls daily, versus 103 before work started.

And as the project team commented in hindsight: “It all looks so easy now.”

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