So far this month I’ve shared the 5 categories of issues that are causing 80% of your customer service problems, how to improve Quality without going broke, and a complimentary resource that delivers unbeatable competitive advantage.  Let’s continue our focus on Quality this month with a solution beyond Lean that you can take action on quickly and easily.

I’ve shared the analogy of “don’t just oil the Tinman, make him sing and dance”, to help you refocus your efforts from conventional approaches to driving product and service quality to an approach which can become a core competitive advantage – changing the Experiential quality so that you consistently create a feel good when your customers do business with you. The next step is to create a path of least resistance.

Create the Path of Least Resistance

Have you ever noticed that parks and university campuses have paved walkways, AND lots of well-worn paths in the grass that clearly illustrate the shortest and easiest distance between two points?  You know instinctively that when you try to force-fit customers onto a walkway that doesn’t work for them, the path they’ll choose instead will often be your competition.

Although it’s a bit dated now that the Internet has become such a factor in business, a 1990s Harvard Business Review article titled: Staple Yourself to the Order outlined a simple and effective approach to looking at every stage in the manufacturing process to uncover opportunities for improvement. When I work with manufacturing clients or service providers, we take an updated approach and “Staple Ourselves to the Entire Experience,” from the time a customer first becomes aware of their products and services, to end-of-life recycling or disposal, and everything in between.  Your goal is to become the path of least resistance – the easiest way between where your customer is and where they want to be – at EVERY stage of the Customer Experience.

If you’ve read my #1 Bestseller, Profit in Plain Sight, you’ve already heard about an approach I recommend for surfacing critical areas of the Experience as your customers see it, called a Value Creation Conversation.  It’s your own “path of least resistance” that can deliver big impact based on helping you fine-tune every aspect of the Customer Experience based on what your customers actually notice and dislike or notice and value, rather than tackling every element within your Customer Experience, which can be a daunting task (and sometimes difficult to maintain while keeping Lean).

Beyond LEAN: The Action Plan

However, here’s a tip-of-the-iceberg technique you can use in a pinch.  Play customer for a day, starting with your “front end” experience:  your website, brochures, newsletter, toll-free number, and so on.  Evaluate what a prospect or customer will experience when even TRYING to do business with you (I once had a client whose 1-800 number didn’t work!).  Is it easy? User-friendly?  Welcoming?  Or convoluted, full of corporate-speak, and time-consuming?  Do the same with your most critical competitors.  Who wins, on the basis of first impressions?  Then, repeat with your order entry/confirmation process, your product or service delivery process, your after-sales service process, and your product-end-of-life-replacement process.  Get rid of the obvious sludge or friction points.

Bear in mind that this shortcut will help you identify some low-hanging fruit, but it is still from YOUR perspective, rather than your customers.  Over time, I recommend you embed the Value Creation Conversation process as it will shorten the time and effort required to fully reach Gold Standard status at each stage of creating the Customer (and prospect) Experience when you staple yourself to the experience based on customer input, you can quickly and easily deliver a WOW in the areas they notice most when deciding who to do business with.  You’ll become the path of least resistance, draw customers to your products and services more easily, stay Lean, and create a competitive advantage that’s hard for others to copy.

Simple steps.  Big impact.  If you haven’t yet taken advantage of the 3 complimentary training videos I’ve created for you this month, make sure you do that now.  Share them with your team, and take an unconventional, highly effective approach to improving your corporate reputation for quality.

#1 Bestselling Author, International Speaker, and Accelerator Anne C. Graham is on a mission to help 5 million business leaders and their teams double their profit per employee – or more – in less than one year, in less time per week than they’re spending on email per day. Her new book Profit in Plain Sight includes the 5-step proactive P.R.O.F.I+T Plan to do it.  Connect with Anne on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.