Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When Flows Collide

Originally, I was not going to post about this issue but the more I thought about it, the more we can learn from it. The issue deals with lack of communication, poor customer service and colliding flows.

I recently rented a car at the Jackson, Mississippi airport from a well recognized, national rental car company. The experience was typical up until the point of returning the car at the end of the week. Normally, I just pull up to the proper return lane, get scanned in by the attendant, mileage and fuel levels checked, receipt is printed and off I go to catch my flight. Not this time.

I pull into the proper return lane and no attendant is in sight. I patiently wait and look around but no attendant showed up. Strange, I never had to wait before at this airport.

Finally, I see an employee from this car rental company pull up in one of their rental cars. He tells me that they got rid of the attendants in the return area as part of cost cutting and I need to go inside to their airport counter to return my car.

As most frequent travelers do, I plan some time for delays and problems but not too much since I dislike sitting around the airport any longer than I need to. In this case, I had a few minutes to spare however the clock is ticking. Stress levels start to elevate.

As I swiftly walk to the airport entrance, I happen to notice a small sign that states we need to return the car keys at the rental car counter inside the airport. The sign is small and located near the walking exit to the airport.

I rush to the counter only to find a line of customers waiting for service by only one attendant. This is the point where flows collide. Both customer picking up cars and returning cars are in the same line. Aghhh!

I feel the stress rising higher and try to push it back down. If worse comes to worse, I will just drop the keys on the counter and head quickly to the security line. I can always get a receipt online later.

After what seemed like forever, in reality just 15 minutes, I get to the counter to return my car. I got through security and made it on-time for my flight home.

Does it have to be this way?

Where was the customer communication when I first rented the car to tell me to allow time to return the car at this counter instead of the usual return attendant?

What about the sign? Could it be placed closer to the entrance instead of the exit? Could multiple sign be placed in several spots? Could the sign be larger and easier to see?

Could the colliding flows be separated at the counter? Should return customers get priority over pick up customers? Can a drop off box be used with an offer to email the receipt directly to you-no effort on the customer’s part?

Based on this situation, where in our processes do we fail to communicate properly and create colliding flows?

What about shipping and receiving? What about loading and unloading trucks? What about picking and putting away material on racks or shelves? What about work flow in cells?

What about patients checking in and checking out? What about receiving and dispensing supplies? Are there colliding flows in the ER?

Go to gemba and see the flow (or lack of flow). What colliding flows can we see and improve?

1 comment:

Mark Welch said...

An excellent example of why the airline industry is doing so poorly, Mike, and how some Lean Thinking could help.

Colliding value streams... These can be very confounding and force some very deep thinking, as in, "I know this proces involves several value streams, but how big do we scope this project?"

But the process you discuss here, pick up keys vs. return keys, seems like a reasonably small scope to tackle. Too bad they're caught up in traditional cost-cutting.