It’s common to think that process improvement initiatives are meant to cater only to manufacturing processes, simply because manufacturing is where Lean and Six Sigma began. However, many other industries, in particular financial services and banking, also rely on data analysis and Lean Six Sigma tools to improve processes.
Rod Toro is a business process improvement manager at Edward Jones, and I recently got the chance to talk with him about a Lean Six Sigma project the service division at his company completed to improve customer satisfaction.
Edward Jones has been increasing the number of financial advisors who work for the investment firm, and they have a goal for 20,000 financial advisors to be on board by 2020. With all of this growth, the number of service requests and service calls to support local branches has also increased.
“We were faced with understanding how we can better meet increasing service demands and give better overall customer service,” Toro says. “Using Lean Six Sigma and statistical tools, we performed a project to answer questions, such as, is it better to cross-train employees on multiple skill areas? And, how can we optimize the average speed of answer?”
The service division at Edward Jones is highly focused on providing world-class customer service that’s not only timely, accurate, and professional, but is also customized and conveys “a spirit of caring” to the client. Now, with an increase in service calls, as well as the movement to provide better, world-class service, Edward Jones faced a challenge: how would their current staff of service associates be able to meet the increasing service demands while giving clients even better service than before?
Toro, who was the project’s Master Black Belt, and the rest of the project team had a key breakthrough when thinking through how to approach the project.
“We started thinking first about how we could help the associates do their job better,” says Toro. “Instead, we shifted our focus to improving the overall process—focusing on all aspects that make up a service call—from training associates in the beginning to each phase of the call.”
This shift in focus allowed the team to start thinking about improvement in terms of the process as a whole. A process that was repeatable, standardized, and predictable. A process that could be optimized.
“We knew we needed to identify the metrics to distinguish the right associate for the right skill, as well as streamlining the workflow in a more efficient and meaningful way,” Toro says. “By assigning the right person to the right skills, we’re reducing AHT (average handle time) and thereby improving ASA (average speed to answer) and the overall customer experience.
We had the opportunity to optimize associate capacity to balance the department performance across all phone skills.”
Knowing that their current baseline pain was that all the associates were trained on multiple skills—with all skills given the same staffing priority, as well as resource moves and additions being made frequently without taking the impacts into account—the team knew they could improve from where they were starting from.
So how would they do it? Enter the Design of Experiments (DOE) tools in Minitab.
Performing the DOE
Toro and the team selected four key factors (associate rating, after call work, shift, and training), and reviewed current historical data to determine what data already existed. For the data that was missing, they completed selected experiments.
With all the data in hand, the team ran a 2-level factorial design in Minitab that would allow them to assess the best mix of each of the four key factors.
The main effects and interaction plots below indicated that cross-training associates so they were well-versed on all skills was a detriment.
In addition, main effects and interaction plots for standard deviation revealed that consistency was based mainly on associates who have a higher skill level.
“This was our ‘Aha’ moment,” says Toro. “Cross-training all the associates on all skills wasn’t effective. Instead, we found that we needed to allow them to focus on their best skills, and then they would perform better.”
The Pareto chart below shows the interactions among factors that had a significant impact on overall performance:
“We needed the right people, with the right skills, at the right time,” Toro says.
3D Scatterplots for the win!
“3D scatterplots show the power of Minitab,” says Toro. “We were able to evaluate the relationships between the number of associates, amount of calls, and process lead time—which helped us to determine the key factors and the key levels.”
Now, with the right associates who have the right skills being assigned in the right areas, the service division has increased the capacity of the team that they have, while also improving all of the call-center metrics they set out to fine-tune.
“Using DOE to improve services is uncommon, but it really shouldn’t be,” Toro says. “Once you understand the principles of DOE, rather than just focusing on how to use the tools properly, you realize that the tools typically used for process improvement in manufacturing can be customized for use in the service sector—and really, everywhere.”
Want to learn more?
Rod Toro will be presenting a full case study of this Lean Six Sigma project, as well as the lessons the project team at Edward Jones learned along the way at the upcoming ASQ World Conference on Quality and Improvement in Dallas. If you’re attending the conference, be sure to attend “Hello, How Can I Help You?” Improving Customer Satisfaction in Financial Services on Monday, May 5 at 1:30 p.m. in the Senators Lecture Hall at the Hilton Anatole.
And for even more, here is some further reading that may interest you: