Applying Gemba Walks to the Service Industry

This week, I spoke with Robert Petruska, who recently published a book titled Gemba Walks for Service Excellence: The Step-by-Step Guide for Identifying Service Delighters, about the importance of "gemba walks" and their role in improving service organizations.
The Japanese term gemba roughly translates to "the place where value is created," and gemba walks in the service industry involve management visiting the point in the service process in which customers interact directly with the organization.

I asked Robert,"Why are gemba walks important for the service industry?" And, here is his complete response:

Customer expectations are always changing, and the challenge for service providers seems to be how to get ahead of the competition.  I think every company would like to delight customers, but could use some fresh ideas.   

A fabulous technique used to improve manufacturing is the gemba walk, and it is fairly new to the service industry.  The overarching goal of a gemba walk is to help companies identify new customer delighters by engaging the front lines in a creative way, thereby providing a competitive advantage. 

You may have heard about a reality TV show called “The Undercover Boss,” in which a CEO clandestinely works as a front-line employee.  It’s usually eye-opening for the CEO to experience the actual working conditions firsthand.  The important thing about this are the changes made as a result of the CEO getting out of the office.  In contrast, during a gemba walk, leadership works with a team to study an entirely different industry. 

To prepare for gemba walks, team members learn to observe an entire service experience with an eye for those subtle nuances unique to that industry.  During debriefing, the team is asked what happened during those “moments of truth” that could potentially delight customers. People are then asked to look outside of the box, innovate, and to come up with better ways of providing exceptional experiences for their own customers.  This opens the door for engaging the heads, hearts, and hands of people who represent the “face” of your company. Most importantly, leadership asks what was learned from all of this and what could potentially be incorporated into their own service portfolio. 

Most people want to do a good job, and gemba walks is a great tool that can be used to improve the service experience for your customers.

Do any readers in the service industry have experiences with gemba walks? Were they successful? Did they lead to innovation and eliminate waste?


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