7 wastes of services

While lean was originally conceived to streamline manufacturing processes, lean thinking can be applied across any industry.

Lean is a set of principles that were originally concocted in the 1940s to improve workflows on the Toyota manufacturing floor. There are many documented successes when manufacturers have implemented lean practices to much success.

But luckily, manufacturers don’t own the patent on efficiency. While lean was initially thought up to help manufacturers become more efficient, these principles can also make sense for service industries. Changing the context doesn’t necessarily change the goals of lean: visualize, standardize and improve.

So what kind of unique wastes is the service industry most guilty of?

The 7 wastes of services (jap. muda) are the modification of original 7 wastes. They concern services, not like the original ones – production. The idea of 7 wastes was originally developed by Taiichi Ohno, engineer in Toyota, and was a part of Toyota Production System, later Lean manufacturing.

The waste is everything that doesn’t create a value for the customer. The customer wants good service. The company should do it right first time without any additional costs. The customer doesn’t want to loose time in queues, waiting or asking many questions.

The 7 wastes of services list was created because increasing number of service enterprises that searched for methods to improve their work.

7 wastes

1. Delays

Delays are perhaps the most common waste in services. They can be spotted everywhere in the service processes. E.g.:

  • late answer to e-mail
  • standing in queue (sometimes it is a strategy, see: luxury cars)
  • late arrival of coach, travel guide, lecturer
  • waiting until somebody picks up the phone
  • not complete information on the website (that requires further search or e-mail)

2. Duplication

Work should be done right first time. But that’s more: it should be done only once. It is common in services, that several workers have to perform the same work, e.g.:

  • check the same elements, because someone forgot to leave information that they were already checked,
  • rewrite the list of customers, because someone sent it as screenshot not in editable form.

Sometimes duplication can be required because of security issues.

3. Motion

Customer service should be organized in one-stop. Whenever the customer has to move, stand in another queue, come to the office only to appoint the visit it is a waste. As much as possible should be done without the customer present  or at least using communication tools (e-mail, phone).

4. Unclear communication

If the customer asks about the service, that means he didn’t find the information before. Why? Because there was no information for customer. Or because it was prepared in unreadable, hard to understand form. The efficient communication is a challenge.

In contemporary communication we use more often icons than text, which is usually faster. However too much icons or not intuitive ones can make more harm. There is a problem of cross-cultural communication where the icon can have different meaning.

5. Inventory

Just in time has limited impact on services. However inventory planning still is important. The main principles are:

  • correct inventory
  • only the inventory required
  • correct amount of inventory

6. Errors

Errors happen when the customer didn’t received what he wanted, but also if he didn’t received in the way he wanted. The service has to fulfil the requirements, needs and expectations of the customre. What’s more, it has to delight the customer.

7. Opportunity lost

The first contact is essential. If the company representative is rude, ignores the customer, etc. the transaction can never occur. No costs? No. The opportunity lost costs are very high. Not only this time you didn’t sell your service, but you’ll probably never sell that service to that customer, nor any of his friends and family. The information of bad quality spreads very fast and wide.