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Three Insights About the Lean Six Sigma Process to Ensure Success with Your Performance Improvement Project

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Written By:

Rick Zayas

June 26, 2019

A business issue involving your call center has been affecting your organization for months. Maybe you have a growing company but lagging sales, increased operational costs or poor customer satisfaction. Despite all your previous efforts, you’ve been unable to uncover the root cause of your issue, and it has now reached a critical stage. Using Lean Six Sigma to improve call center performance is a proven way to determine underlying operational issues and to implement organizational change.

Lean Six Sigma is a performance improvement philosophy focused on delivering greater value to your customers, employees and business. This is accomplished by designing or redesigning processes to meet the expectations of all your audiences, and by eliminating any other activities that do not positively contribute to your desired outcomes. While the concept originated years ago in the manufacturing sector, its practices can be highly beneficial when applied in your call center or other customer contact channels.

Lean Six Sigma can be used to drive improvements in nearly every aspect of your customer experience operation, from hiring and training to workforce planning to customer engagement. These data-driven projects often focus on specific metrics such as improved customer satisfaction, issue resolution, sales, accuracy, speed of service and efficiency.  By finding and improving underlying issues through your Lean Six Sigma project, you can make real and lasting change to your business.

When you use Lean Six Sigma to improve your customer contact operations, there are three critical insights you should know to ensure your project’s success:

  1. Find and listen to all the voices that are important to your organization.
  2. Identify and validate causal factors adversely affecting your results.
  3. Understand that the most direct path to your project’s success is not always a straight line.

Let’s look at each insight in further detail.

  1. Find and listen to all the voices that are important to your organization.

One of the first steps you should take to resolve your business issue is to identify the “customers” of your business and hear their respective “voices” to determine their expressed needs. The most common voices are the customer, the business, the process and the employee.

Even a well-designed process can, over time, be rendered ineffective or incapable due to changes in personnel, technology, customer expectations and government regulations. Also, remember that processes can be visible to the customer as part of their product or service experience, or they may exist behind the scenes in operational support.

With proper analysis of these voices, you can translate them into critical requirements that your processes must be designed to meet. This Lean Six Sigma exercise is referred to as building a critical-to-quality (CTQ) tree. It is a useful way to convert voices to something measurable and actionable for your customer experience processes.

  1. Identify and validate causal factors adversely affecting your results.

When seeking resolution to a business issue, an organization’s first inclination is to look at the process activities and the people working within the process. However, it’s been our experience that the root cause of an issue is often not the process itself, but the inputs to that process. Every process relies on inputs, and those inputs must meet exact requirements such as function, time or quality. If even one of the inputs is failing, the whole process may be doomed.

For example, if you are making a pizza, the inputs could be the dough, cheese, sauce, various toppings and even the oven and the pizza maker. If all these inputs meet their exact requirements, you have a greater chance of making a good pizza. But if one of these inputs are off, then you will have a mediocre pizza. And if more than one input doesn’t meet requirements, then you could have a terrible pizza. With managing your customer experience operations, if one of your inputs is wrong, your customer could be left dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and possibly searching for an alternative to your product or service.

Using the Lean Six Sigma methodology, these vital inputs are known as causal factors. Causal factors must be identified and validated in terms of their relationship to the CTQ and controlled in order to ensure your process delivers the desired outcome. There are various Lean Six Sigma tools to use that help identify and validate causal factors. Finding and improving the performance of your causal factors can be the difference between truly solving your business issue or wasting precious time and resources.

  1. Understand that the most direct path to your project’s success is not always a straight line.

Achieving sustained improvement and consistently high levels of performance are the desired outcomes of any Lean Six Sigma initiative. In our work, we use DMAIC — a data-driven problem-solving methodology to help us improve processes and generate customer value. The five phases of DMAIC — Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control — were not intended to be linear, and indeed should not be if you want to achieve sustained improvement. Instead, you should measure and analyze throughout the life of the project. In fact, you should measure after project completion to ensure you have properly identified the causal factors and that your actions are having the intended result. Test your improvement ideas, measure and analyze the results and then pivot or adjust the solution design accordingly. By building measurements, analysis and controls into your solution, it will be adaptable to change, becoming truly sustainable.

We often find that executives want to implement Lean Six Sigma practices in their call centers, but they don’t know how to adapt a methodology based in manufacturing to address the issues of their service organization. We have helped many companies through our COPC® Lean Six Sigma for Contact Centers – Yellow Belt Training and consulting, designed specifically for contact centers and customer experience operations.

We teach Lean Six Sigma in a practical way that can be directly applied to our clients’ business operations. We then guide our clients to successfully use this methodology in performance improvement projects that both resolve their business issue and provide a significant return on investment.

For example, a client recently engaged COPC Inc. for Six Sigma consulting and training. Working together to train green and yellow belts, we focused on the specific business issues affecting performance and operational costs. Our client soon realized a major opportunity for improvement was First Contact Resolution (FCR), which was performing below target. The current level of repeat calls resulted in customer dissatisfaction and an additional business expenditure of $4 million annually in labor.

After extensive Six Sigma training, our client took ownership of the analysis to develop and deploy action plans in pilot programs at some of the company’s internal and outsourced call centers. Throughout this process, COPC Inc. mentored the client’s newly trained yellow and green belts while reviewing analysis files, and participated in project meetings, offering observations and guidance.

Upon project completion, our client achieved dramatic improvements, including a ten percent reduction in repeat calls, a 10 percent increase in second-call resolution and an eight percent increase in third-call resolution. The client is taking this project’s achievements and expanding the solution throughout the enterprise. If similar improvements from the pilot programs are sustained at the enterprise level, it would represent a reduction of 678,000 calls annually for a savings of $6 million dollars.

Want to learn more about how to implement Lean Six Sigma to drive performance improvement? 

Take our online COPC® Lean Six Sigma for Contact Centers – Yellow Belt Training to learn some of the foundational concepts for using Lean Six Sigma in a contact center. Or contact us to set up in-person training for your team, or to get help with an existing Lean Six Sigma project. For more information, email us at