Most of us are very aware of certain challenges in our business. We just can’t seem to overcome them because we have a business to run all day. Who has enough time to focus on fixing a problem that has been part of the business for years and we’ve learned to deal with it? I often refer to this as trying to fix a bike while riding it.
Operations is hard. Every day it starts all over again and new issues arise.
In recent years and during difficult financial markets, operators had a primary focus on reducing routes and taking trucks off the road. This approach was great for the industry and sparked a technology revolution in convenience services that started in the late 1990’s as operators began to adopt DEX and research wireless technology to accelerate and automate antiquated business processes. Now that DEX and remote monitoring have become a streamlined part of the business, operators need to refocus on service levels.
Business owners look to software companies to solve their issues and many times, they have helped. I continue to be puzzled by the willingness of business owners to agree to take on expensive projects that include software systems implementations or migrations however they are unwilling to make certain changes in their business that will impact their company much greater than the software will.
Step 1. How do your managers start their day?
Route managers who spend the first part of their day scrambling to get a staff member out of the door with the supplies/orders/tools they need to do today’s work, are already behind the 8 ball. This is even worse if the manager spends the first part of his day reviewing yesterday’s services to identify mistakes or errors made by field staff that need to be addressed today.
By the time the issues are actually being addressed, today is half over and there are another half days’ worth of mistakes already committed in the field that will need to be addressed tomorrow. Does your management team feel like they are in the movie Groundhog’s Day? They may as well be, because your team and you have come to accept the process of identifying and fixing mistakes after they have happened.
Step 2. Commit to reducing defects
A defect is any time a service is completed with an error. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s many lean process improvement strategies like Six Sigma and 5S taught business leaders to eliminate defects and delays in their business to realize improved service levels and profit with less resources. Examples of some of the defects in the convenience services industry can be any number of the following:
- Missed Stops
- Stock Outs
- Empty slots
- Mis-picked orders
- Service call response time
- Repeat service calls
A company committed to reducing these types of defects before they happen has the opportunity to benefit from improved service levels, managers who are managing rather than fighting fires and improvement projects that are being completed rather than spoken about.
Step 3. Focus on Tomorrow
It’s difficult to pull your attention from a raging fire to focus on something that won’t occur until tomorrow however in order to place a stake in the ground and decide that you will no longer tolerate defects in your business, you must allow certain issues from the prior day go until at least tomorrow. Managers and business owners must start their day with one primary focus.
Our drivers and field staff will have a schedule of work they can execute and will have 100% of the products/supplies/tools needed to execute on tomorrow’s schedule of work.
Is your team in the field right now with a schedule they can execute and all the products/supplies/tools they need to execute their work without causing a mistake that needs to be addressed the next day?
If you answered “absolutely yes” to this question you are either in a small minority of operators in this industry or need to have a hard look in the mirror because you are fooling yourself. Those who are fooling themselves will be exposed when there is another financial crisis and your customer base shrinks or when a formidable competitor enters the market with a solid marketing message and the ability to execute.
For the rest of the operations, from $1 million to $300 million in revenue, think about how to utilize today to make certain that tomorrow, your team has everything they need to complete their day with no defects.
Root cause analysis of thousands of transactions has shown that most issues in the business are caused by improper preparation. The top 3 causes in same store sales decline are caused by the following issues:
- Skipped stops that cause excessive stock outs when the stop is serviced.
- Products that are not filled to the necessary levels cause excessive stockouts at next service.
- Cashless devices out of order for extended periods of time that go unnoticed.
Focusing on tomorrow can be accomplished in 3 simple steps.
- Schedules: Ensure your staff is properly scheduled for tomorrow. This means ZERO tolerance for skipped stops. If you are using dynamic scheduling, great. If you are scheduling traditionally, that’s fine as well. Schools closed today, get it off the schedule. Adding a stop that had an issue from yesterday, remove a poor volume service so the schedule can be executed 100%.
- Products: The adoption of forecasting software and remote monitoring systems have successfully automated the age-old dilemma of which products are necessary to complete a service at the machine. Picking systems have significantly improved the ability to properly equip a route with the products needed to complete a service. Review the pick orders for the next day. Identify items that are out of stock in the warehouse and make sure they are replaced with a reliable substitute for one time to avoid stock out issues. Make sure you have plenty of supplies like labels, cleaning material and any merchandising items your team needs to do their job well ready to go.
- Communicate: Speak with your staff about the work you have prepared for them for tomorrow. Let them know any issues that may need to be addressed and any items they need to prepare themselves for the next day. Listen to their feedback and concerns as they have more eyes on your clients than you do, and candid feedback can prevent future issues. Take a maniacal approach to solving issues they report.
Whether you are using dynamic scheduling or static, forecasting or truck pars, as much as 20% of your services can be eliminated by making sure each service is completed accurately.
Step 4. Finish Today Today
The fourth and final step is to finish today today. This simply means that managers should know by the end of the day all of the issues that happened in the field today. An End of Day report the following morning should never be the first time a manager is identifying an issue. Finishing today today is a process that can significantly improve service levels and also improve employee moral and significantly reduce stress levels of the management team.
- Pull over, review and communicate: 2018 is a wonderful time to be a business manager. Systems can be accessed from anywhere and employees are a call or text away. Do you remember when you had to wait for a field tech to call the office to check in or page someone in the field to call “home base?” If you are working in the field yourself, two hours prior to the end of your day, stop at a Starbucks or anywhere on your way home where you can review, take notes, make a few calls and send messages.
- Communicate all day: Encourage field staff to call or send a text every time they have an issue in the field. This will help you not only address issues faster, it will open your eyes to the amount of issues happening that you are never made aware of.
- Implement a productive, daily check in process: Check in may be a hassle now because there are so many issues happening in the field that could have been avoided. Once you’ve committed to avoiding those issues, check in can be more of a confirmation and adjustment rather than an interrogation process. Once you are communicating all day with your field staff, most issues that arise at check in may already be in the works.
- Make necessary adjustments and follow through. There will be times when things happen in the business that need to be reacted to. Its best to get the wheels in motion to make these adjustments mid-day while the staff is preparing for tomorrow. When addressed the next morning, often the worst-case scenario occurs. Managers are doing the work that should have been completed by their staff.
Imagine the stress reduction knowing that you’ve addressed all of today’s issues today and your team is ready to execute their plan for tomorrow.
Still can’t see how you can get today’s work finished today and switch to focusing on being prepared for tomorrow? Send me an e-mail or give me a call and we can schedule a time to discuss how you can put this in place in your business, not a sales pitch but an offer to help.