Learning curve: not on the customer’s time

By Hugh Alley   

Business Operations Industry Operations Production Manufacturing customers management manufacturing training

If a company is willing to let employees look incompetent in front of customers, it's going to lose revenue when they go elsewhere.

This is a sign of failure: “Please excuse the delay. Our team is learning new procedures.”

It means: the company doesn’t value its customers enough to actually train its staff; it’s willing to make its employees seem and feel incompetent in front of the public; and it’s going to lose revenue when customers go elsewhere because deliveries are late or products are built wrong.

How to deal with this? Here are three tips.
1. Train most people for 90% of conditions. Staff encounter a seemingly infinite number of situations, there are usually fewer than a dozen that cover 90% of what they face each day. Train for those specific situations and let them get good at the routine stuff first. Don’t even try to cover off the others.
2. Give them an out for the remaining 10%. This a job for the much maligned super users – those who were involved in designing or helping to implement the system. Train them to take that 10% off the team’s hands. They’re the ones who really need prepping for all the unusual variations.
3. Train supervisors so they can coach. Supervisors often don’t understand the new work well enough to help staff. They must master the 90% of conditions so they can help.

Doing these three things will raise team morale, lead to fewer errors and reduce the likelihood your customers will feel put out while your people are learning. With a strong base, it won’t take the team long before it’s capable of tackling that 10%.


Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains in delivery, quality and cost in a short timeframe.


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