Kaizen Article 2 of 4: Who are your customers?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - Who are your customers? How can you better satisfy their expectations?

Written by PHQIX Expert Panel member Chris Bujak and his business partner Pam Vecellio, of Continual Impact LLC. Visit the Ask an Expert page for more advice from PHQIX Expert Panelists.

The COPPHI Kaizen Event Program recently completed foundational QI and kaizen training, coaching, and co-application of kaizen events at 10 health departments. The program was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and managed by National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI); training and expertise were provided by Continual Impact LLC. Four of these kaizen events focused on customer relations and improving satisfaction.  

Kaizen is simply a term that means “change for the better”.  A kaizen event is a team-based approach that enables improvement to be made by stepping through all phases of the improvement cycle effectively and rapidly.  Before the event, a kaizen-appropriate problem is identified along with goals in areas such as customer satisfaction, cycle time and labor reduction, and error elimination. The team is then mobilized and a kaizen event begins. A typical event uses a systematic process to identify waste in the targeted work process, enable the team to understand and analyze the root causes, identify and test solutions, learn, install improvements, and create a system for ongoing improvement. As the event progresses, numerous QI and change management methods and techniques are applied. The event enables the team to accomplish all this work quickly, typically in 5 days with full benefits achieved within 1-3 months!

Team members commented:    

“Did not realize before the waste in our processes—we do now.”

“This was a rollercoaster—after I got off, I wanted to go again.”

 “Learned how we are going to improve our processes.”

“We exceeded our goal through our kaizen!”

 “Wealth of information that we can apply to our lives.”

El Dorado County Health and Human Services Agency improved their customer satisfaction and reduced labor time in the county “Request for Information” process. The team used a kaizen event to understand the problem, identify issues and waste, identify root causes of the issues, and then develop, test, and begin installing the solutions in 1 week. To achieve the improvements, the team created a list of information subject matter experts, standardized work for answering phone requests, developed a live transfer process and internal service-level agreements for returning customer calls; added key information to the county website for self-service, and clarified and simplified the phone tree. Customers can now get their needed information faster and at less labor cost by the team! 

Other organizations that targeted customer improvements during their kaizen events can be found below:

Washington County Public Health Division conducted their kaizen event to improve the volume of childcare facilities that used the LHD for their state required inspections. This improvement work was completed in a one-week intensive improvement effort and resulted in: (1) implementation of a scheduling and preparedness call by the Environmental Health Specialist (EHS), (2) introduction of service standards for scheduling, (3) elimination of a redundant log and data entry system, (4) creation of standardized work and job aids, (5) creation of policies and protocols for areas in which ambiguity exists, and (6) introduction of a protocol to set a 5-day calendar window with the customer for inspection as part of the scheduling and preparedness call done by the EHS.

Clackamas County Public Health Division conducted their kaizen event to design and implement a customer feedback system for the entire public health division. The process and tools used for the project are well described and easy to adapt by other health departments. While Clackamas has not yet achieved their targets for the improvement, they increased completed client feedback forms from 8 to 21 per month, and the lessons learned while conducting the project and the examples of tools and methods makes this project well worth reviewing.

The Fond du Lac County Health Department increased the number of children being screened for developmental delays from 5 to 9 per month, allowing more children to be appropriately connected with services to enhance their early childhood development through early intervention and minimize potential developmental delays.


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