Self-Service – The Evolving Automated Customer Service Experience [Infographic]

Strategy Plan One

April 26, 2012 

Self-Service

The automated customer experience around self-service has come along way, evolving from the invention and implementation of clunky vending machines to the new wave of online streaming of transactions, from anywhere and at anytime.

It is interesting to note that self-service has moved from the delivery of tangible goods to the delivery of information, transactions, digital products in this information era.   However, self-service intersects many sectors, and almost anything is available for either a physical self-serve kiosk or through the web.  In your business planning, have you integrated self-service concepts into your business to make transactions easier, more convenient and accessible to your customers?

Check out this great infographic by Meridian, illustrating the evolutionary time-line of self-service.

self-service - automated customer service

 

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Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur

© 2012 Strategy Plan One

 

 

Kiva Systems and the New Robot World Order

Strategy Plan One

April 7, 2012 

Kiva Systems Kiva Systems Robots

It has been fascinating to see the recent buzz around Kiva Systems robots controlling and working the floor spaces of warehouses.

 

According to some current reports, the Kiva Systems alone is now being used in up to two dozen larger corporation warehouses, including Amazon and Staples.

So impressed, Amazon acquired the 9 year old Kiva Systems company for $775 Million.  It is sure to have a positive, efficiency impact on Amazon, a company that spends $4.6 Billion on warehouse operations.  Considered to be expensive capital costs to start, but in the long-term, will save companies money with efficiencies created.  Check out this informative YouTube video of Kiva Systems at work.

kiva systemsAutomation Impacts

If this initiates the reoccurring trend and debate around automation, what does this mean in a country that is dying for an absolute job turnaround?  The criticism of automation using machines, robots, and electronics is that those methods directly impact labor jobs, resulting in job loss, people loss.

However, in start-up operations with automation implemented right away there will be no pain of job loss or reduction.  In some cases, businesses may establish a new arm or warehouse in an expansion project to run a pilot project of automation.

Kiva Systems Automation Success

Recently acquired by Amazon, the Kiva Systems Company is doing well, with reports of triple figure growth and profitable figures.  More corporations are jumping on board seeing the value and reliability of modern automation.  Initial kinks have been straightened out and it has been reported that Kiva systems are operating in a flawless manner.

It is interesting to watch videos, demonstrating the efficiency and power of these little orange Kiva robots moving about the warehouse, sliding under a customized skid, lifting and following a programmed route on the floor full of sensors.  You could imagine the programming behind such as a system is complicated, but obviously achievable from an operational perspective.  Within the programming there must be many logic functions to almost allow these robots to alter or find best routes from A to B when traffic gets congested, as seen in some of these videos.

Human Labour

Human power is still evident in these automated warehouses, at stations loading and unloading these skid towers and scanning products before the Kiva robot takes off again.  Obviously there are probably backup plans of a labour force filling in for Kiva robots when the system is “down”.  How often have we all experienced system or computer failures?  There will always be a requirement for a well-trained labor force behind maintaining these robots, building them and developing coding and programming.

Cost Benefit Analysis

On the simple cost-benefit analysis side of things, if the capital and operating costs of automated, innovative processes and assets are less than the cost of non-automated, labour process over a defined period of time, then your organization could experience greater profitability and decreased issues around human resources.

Millions of dollars must be spent acquiring a system such as the Kiva system.  These corporations would undertake their own due diligence, such as a cost-benefit analysis on an automated system vs. conventional warehouse system full of employees driving skid steerer and forklift machines.  Based on many assumptions, savings could be realized even with a Kiva Systems basic scenario implemented. 

Kiva Systems Possible Limitations

Evident in the demonstration videos is the fact that warehouse space (height) is not being used to full capacity with Kiva Systems in place.  In the conventional warehouse system, pallets of products are stacked 30-40 feet high in warehouse shelving frames.  There appears to be limitations in volume with the Kiva robots lifting and moving the customized pallets that are 6-8 feet in height, and in terms of dimensions of the pallet, a 3 by 3 footprint.  With a system like this, warehouse space and volume can be planned effectively with respect to capabilities of this system.

As previously mentioned, automated, computerized systems sometimes experience glitches.  Power outages, coding and programming flaws, electronic interference, physical obstructions, logic flaws and an underestimation of operational issues come to mind when brainstorming the potential issues that could arise.   However, the corporation is probably well prepared with fixes and contingencies for everything.  Build into the program, the system does appear to monitor power levels and automatically schedules charging.

Kiva Systems Opportunities

If the Kiva Systems automated world continues to build, opportunities in other areas could emerge, such as a team of robots to:

  • Carry out office work
  • Automate the front counter at a fast food restaurant
  • Sort and file books at libraries
  • Fully automate beauty salon duties, with programmed robots completing hair and body packages

If these examples above come to fruition, this would now look like a scene of the Disney movie WALL-E.  For sure WALL-E would feel comfortable and at home within a Kiva Systems environment.  It has been interesting to read and see the new buzz around this system.  What will be more interesting in the future to observe will be the impacts and the adjustments made to the human labor force, in the development of more value-added jobs around systems like the Kiva Systems model.

Strategy Plan One

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Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur

© 2012 Strategy Plan One

Lessons Learned … From Your Own Employees

Strategy Plan One

March 26, 2012 

 

organizational developmentEmployees Have the Ground, Intelligence Wise

Your business has been successful and booming for a long period of time, and you as the leader / entrepreneur, have been busy in your management duties.

You may be far removed from the ground level operations, not having to grind it out on the floor or crank out code, or deal directly with customers.  However, you are not that removed from your employees who have the greatest wealth of knowledge of the operational level.

Much can be learned from employees who know what is and isn’t working at the operational level, who know what the customer’s actions, thoughts and feedback are, and what other employees are saying behind the management lines.

Engaging and Interacting Frequently with Employees

As a manager, leader, and entrepreneur, engage and interact well and frequently with your employees.  Make it well known that you are openly interested daily about what is taking place on the floor.  It should be a part of your daily routine, either through inspecting your place of retail or office space.  The employees will feel more at ease when the management team is readily and physically available for open discussions.

Grab Intelligence from Employees

Setting the stage with frequent engagement and interactions will assist in your employees openly providing you with a wealth of information to improve operations and/or improve client and customer relationships.  These professionals in your organization may provide valuable recommendations and will look to you as the leader to implement some solutions from issues they encounter.

Make employees feel valued that they can share information and that you, as a tuned-in entrepreneur, are listening and willing to embrace recommendations for approval.

Encourage Continuous Improvements From Employees

To stay on the cutting edge and at the top of your industry, you will need your employees to think and act innovatively.  The best practices and solutions do originate from team actions, and so would innovative practices.

Empower your employees to develop ground-breaking practices that would set the units, team, and business far ahead of the competitors.  Create an environment that is rewarding and promotes recognition for achievements.  Depending on your budgets, you can develop incentive programs for high achievers and for employees that bring innovative solutions to the table.  You may be surprised at the untapped intelligence from all of your professional staff.

Strategy Plan One

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Reach Success – Obtain Feedback for Continuous Improvement

Strategy Plan One

February 24, 2012 

Feedback for Continuous ImprovementContinuous Improvement through Feedback

If you want to enjoy success year after year as an entrepreneur you need to pay attention to your customers and your operations.  Feedback mechanisms are the best way to gauge objective feedback from clients and from your staff.

Feedback from surveying will shape how you can improve operations to build and retain customers and revenue.  Continuous improvement is a must in this competitive world.

Feedback Mechanisms

Continuous ImprovementWhether customers are satisfied or not with your service or product, ensure you have feedback mechanisms such as surveying as part of your service operation.  You need to analyze a cross-section of feedback from all customers.  Even the happy customers will make note of things that can make the experience, product or service better.  Remember that you should not think your business is at 100% optimization in your product or service delivery.  Don`t fall into the trap of thinking everything is perfect and you never have to change.  Business environments and industries constantly change, and with that, you need to stay competitive with continuous improvements.  Take that valuable information from your customers and revise your operations, customer experience, product or service accordingly.  Ensure that you provide a message around your survey process that they are helping shape better products and services.

Continuous Improvement

Encourage a continuous improvement environment in your business, and empower your staff to take the lead and charge of recommended improvements.  As a leader, engage with your staff and units and survey them for their valued feedback.  Employee buy-in can occur if you make them a part of the valued process, and allow them to take ownership of the piece of action.  It helps as a leader to recognize unit and project leaders for their efforts.  If the improvement recommendations result in significant operational or profitability improvements, compensation incentives may be appropriate.  A whole organization that is engaged in a continuous improvement process will definitely build a continuous competitive firm.

Ensure you pay ultimate attention to your customer base and to your internal members of your business for feedback to make your business better and more competitive.

 

Strategy Plan One

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Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur

© 2012 Strategy Plan One

 

 

Trade Show Event – Great Exposure for an Entrepreneur

Strategy Plan One

February 22, 2012 

Trade show event

You have almost completed your business plan, but you are still developing the marketing activities component.  One great avenue to include in your planning and to get exposure to your products and services is at a trade show event.

 

 

Trade Show Events

 

Trade show events give you the ability to showcase products and services to masses of potential customers, with colourful, interactive displays manned by representatives promoting the business.  Since the marketing product industry is so competitive, banner and pop-up displays are cost-effective and can be user-friendly in the set-up and take-down.  If designed right, your display can last for years and be used over and over again at trade show events.

 

If you have chosen the right trade show and right target participants, you may be able to convert a high rate of participants at a trade show event into buying customers.  You must consider that participants are there for a reason, and the fact that most pay to attend is a great sign that they are interested in the commercial aspects of the event.  Ensure you have the ability to track leads and to follow up on those leads.

 

Key factors you should be aware of when considering trade show events:

 

Trade show event- Ensure you target the appropriate venues and trade shows that will result in the highest volume of interested participants

- Be prepared – design the layout of your trade show space and pick the appropriate spot in the trade show event

- Design your trade show booth and display, interactive with models, samples, videos, and take home products

- Make sure you staff you booth appropriately and that at least 1 person is there at all times; an unmanned booth is a waste of money at an expensive trade show, and opportunities for new customers will be lost

- Interact with customers stopping by the booth but also with the pedestrians who are walking the aisles by invite them in with offers

- Make sure you have freebies and give-aways with branded logos and contact information for the potential customers; there needs to be a way for potential customers to contact you

- Track revenue and expenditures from trade show activities, and analyze the return on investment

 

Your marketing budget for a trade show event must include:

 

- Cost of trade show attendance and appropriate booth space

- Any advertising that will promote your attendance at the event

- Banners and printed materials

- Give-aways, samples and contest expenditures

- Human resource staffing costs

- Costs of transportation

- Any additional insurance costs

- The post event costs associated with customer and lead follow up

 

Consider trade show events as one of those key marketing, outreach activities for your business.  With added attention to your trade show participation, your booth will be the showcase of the trade show event, and will result in additional customers and revenue generation you deserve.

 

Strategy Plan One

http://strategyplanone.com

Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur

© 2012 Strategy Plan One

5 Attributes of Modern Leadership

Strategy Plan One

February 8, 2012 

Leadership has changed with time and with varying economic and environmental circumstances.   Early to mid 20th century, leaders often invoked a militaristic or autocratic leadership approach, and to most the extent, this worked for many successful companies and big corporations.

In the current age, the workforce is better educated with more rights.  Values and ethics are important, and company and personal values and ethics need to align to achieve common goals.  In order to compete on a global scale, leaders need to motivate and influence teams of valuable employees to thrive and survive.

 

Collaboration with team members

Leadership today is obviously quite different, with globalization, competition, values and ethics and people’s rights making big impacts on how leaders lead.  The global economic climate is challenging and is multi-faceted.  New leaders today need the ability to navigate through challenging environments, with multiple layers of complexity.  A new leader must be able to collaborate with professionals adequately, and to be able to adapt quickly to changing environments.

 

Engaging others

Twenty to thirty years ago, businesses relied on manual analysis of localized information.  Today, teams and leaders must competently analysis massive amounts of global information quickly.  Where leaders lack capacity, leaders must be able to source and acquire capacity to assist in meeting organizational goals and objectives.  Leaders need to have the skill to interact with, motivate and empower team members.  Effective interaction with employees leads to better buy-in of goals and objectives.  Frequent engagement tends to make the employees and teams feel valued.

 

Activating Efficiency

Today leaders must accomplish more with fewer resources.   In order to stay competitive in global markets, leaders must stay on top with efficient operations.  Leaders must have the ability to maximize results and benefits with decreasing levels of resources.  Leaders must seek ideas for efficient operations from their teams, as these valued employees are the subject matter experts.  There are several mechanisms to implement to achieve efficiencies, from empowering employees to take the lead, to compensatory mechanisms.

 

Ability to Vision

Experienced leaders thoroughly observe and analyze the past and present.  A great leader can envisage a successful way forward.  They are able to see an end goal and objective, and pathway to achieve the objective.  Only a few have this innate ability; most develop the skill through experience in operations and management.  This valuable trait may be the result of many years of experience leading to the ability to look forward, and some of it through trial and error.  Leaders with vision understand why they are in the business and why the company’s products or services are valuable or needed by the consumer.

 

Effective Communication

Effective leadership involves a high level of rich communication.  A great leader engages with others and can communicate the vision to the team.  With powerful, transparent communications, leaders will need to be influential on others, with the ability to convince and encourage the team to follow and buy-in.  The level of acceptance is a good indicator of the leader’s communication and influential effectiveness.

 

Strategy Plan One

© 2012 Strategy Plan One

Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur

Infographic – greatest innovators of all time

Strategy Plan One

January 29, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an interesting graphic (2012 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index)  illustrating the perspectives from our youth.  It also reminds us all that Steve Jobs, among many other brilliant people in the past, may have been one of the greatest innovators an inventors of all time.

We would hope and dream that individuals have been inspired by great innovators and entrepreneurs of the world, to carry on essential creative and build beneficial companies, products and services.

 

Strategy Plan One

© Strategy Plan One 2012

Business information, resources and tips for the entrepreneur