At one of my favorite local sandwich shops, they offer standard sandwich options, but you can customize any sub to your heart’s content. Customers can place an order by filling out a paper sandwich bag marking their customization preferences. Afterwards, the sub goes down the assembly line and five or 10 minutes later, your order is ready.
Although the process is efficient, it can also be frustrating — I never knew where my sandwich was in the assembly line. I only saw 20 paper sandwich bags, pinned on a clothes line. So I decided to mark the back of my bag with my initials. Now, I know exactly where my sandwich is in the process, and I can figure about how long it will take before my order is finished.
It’s my own personal kanban.
Improving Customer Retention with Kanban
I’d wager that many customers feel exactly the same way I do. Simple improvements, such as adding initials to a sandwich bag, can go a long way in making you feel more at ease, which can lead to better customer retention rates.
Kanban is a tool pioneered by Taiichi Ohno, the mastermind behind the Toyota Production System. It’s literally a “signboard” — a tool that is used to visualize, organize and complete work. Ohno used it to quickly communicate to everyone how much work was being done, which state it was in, and how the work was being done.
In short, Kanban is a visual process management system that conveys what to produce, when to produce it, and how much to produce; a way to increase process transparency with employees.
But how do you create that same level of transparency with customers?
For example, I recently relaunched my company website, Great Black Speakers. I invested a lot of effort in the design process; a solution to prior customer communications mistakes.
One of those mistakes was focusing so much on employee management that I neglected to keep customers in the loop. I realized this when one of my speakers felt uneasy about staying with my company because they felt lost and in the dark about what was going on.
So from the customer’s perspective, no matter how much work we did behind-the-scenes, it mattered very little to him, because he did not know what was happening or when it would be completed.
Transparency Leads to Customer Satisfaction
FedEx, UPS, and USPS are prime examples of companies that use customer kanban well. Shipment tracking is an innovation that has reduced the perceived risk of shipping.
Other examples can be found in customer service. For example, Authorize.net has a chat feature that tells me exactly how many people are in front of me in the queue and counts down until my number is called. It is not that my wait time has changed, but I feel better knowing roughly how long I have to wait.