• Service ‘Pokayoke’: Working without mistakes is possible

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    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    A MAN stopped at a countryside coffee shop and ordered a cup of coffee. The waitress who was having a bad day grudgingly delivered it and asked: “Anything else?” The customer smiled and said: “Yes, I’d like some sugar, cream, a spoon, a napkin and a saucer for the cup.”

    “Well, aren’t you the demanding one?” snapped the waitress.

    “Look at it from my point of view,” said the customer. “You served a cup of coffee, made five mistakes. And here you are aggravating the situation by telling me I’m demanding.”

    If you are the owner of the coffee shop, how would you handle the situation—scold the waitress and apologize to the customer, or do nothing? After all, the man was obviously from out of town and is not expected to be a repeat customer.

    I told this story to an entrepreneur with an expanding restaurant business who has decided to rigorously and seriously solve customer issues like it. I told him: “Be attentive to problems, even trivial ones that are not reported to you. A customer complaint is an excellent gift. Paying attention to the meaning and substance of customer complaints is what makes of a successful business.”

    I asked the owner: “What is the most common employee mistakes resulting in service defects? Rank them according to its peso value. We’ll start from number one on the list.” He gave me a list of 10 processes and forms with the number of mistakes committed by their employees and customers combined. The first one on the list contributed to P650,000 of losses a year. This excludes the cost of frayed nerves and stressful conditions between and among employees, the customers and management.

    After a rapid examination of the restaurant policy and practices, I told the owner that we can apply Pokayoke—Japanese for mistake proofing. I thought of prescribing Pokayoke because the restaurant has a lot of inspection and control points, and yet they still fail to reduce its service defects. Over the years, the owner has established a lot of inspection steps that only delayed the process without reducing service defects.

    The root cause of the defects and mistakes in the restaurant go unaddressed, contributing and perpetuating to a vicious cycle. At first, the restaurant owner was a bit reluctant. After all, Pokayoke is often applied in the manufacturing sector. For him, Pokayoke seemed an unnatural solution given the fact that there are not so many successful documented examples that were tried and tested, other than what we see being applied in computer technology as in “Do you want to save your document?” or “Are you sure you want to log-off?”

    But he was convinced. Why not? Pokayoke is a low-cost, common-sense solution to a costly problem. There’s no risk involved. And he doesn’t have to spend money to solve it. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the small stuff that can prove to be so rewarding in the long term. No matter what issues you face at work, you will be continuously challenged by larger problems that could have been prevented by Pokayoke.

    In the first place, people do not intentionally create product or service defect. Man is basically good. But errors and mistakes happen due to many factors like employee fatigue, loss of concentration, personal problems, inadequate training, stressful condition, and lack of understanding, among other things.

    Now, how can you argue against Pokayoke? Unfortunately, there are many organizations that continue to ignore it, mainly for lack of a better understanding, if not they’re being blinded by ignorance, if you get my drift.

    So I’m writing a column explaining Pokayoke and its application to the service industry, including those in other corporate functions like human resources, finance, sales, customer service, marketing, purchasing, and many more. This is for cynics who claim that Pokayoke is only for manufacturers. Now I know. If there’s one ideal that unites stupid people, it’s the belief that every single one of us, regardless of ethnicity and religious belief, is deaf and blind.

    Of course, it’s not always that way. There was a time, not so long ago, when we Filipinos have an open mind. That was before the time of Ferdinand Marcos when the country was well on its way of beating Japan as Asia’s most progressive country.

    Today’s creativity and innovation ideal among the common masa (majority of the people) is long gone, strictly defeated because of teleserye (TV soap) and mediocre movies like Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy and My Little Bossings, which were enforced by the social media to gullible patrons.

    Will this craziness ever end? I hope so because I’m planning to cash in on Pokayoke and its application to the service industry.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant with a fused interest in human resources and total quality management. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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