Continual improvement at heart of policy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 12:00am

The word kaizen, which means improvement in Japanese, is the key to Fuji Xerox (Hong Kong)'s win in the Productivity and Quality category at the Hong Kong Awards for Industries. That is because, more broadly, it also denotes the simple but effective system, inspired by the corporate head office, which each year requires functional heads in operating companies around the region to identify and effect specific improvements in one or two areas of the business.

'We form different kaizen teams, and each one has to say in which areas and in what magnitude they want to improve,' says managing director Joseph Yu Shu-cheung, who oversees an 800-strong team handling sales, marketing and after-sales service mainly for printers and multifunction machines. 'They have to quantify it as a percentage or with a dollar sign to show increases in revenue or customer satisfaction. There is a very clear process governing the entire activity, and each year we pick the winning team.'

He explains that in Hong Kong a particular focus has been the level of customer satisfaction. There had been indications, for instance, that hotline services were not always up to expected standards. To deal with this, a kaizen team was formed to look into the issues, identify the root causes of any problems, implement an action plan, and monitor results.

'We have to keep asking what else we can do to improve productivity and provide better quality for customers. We see that as the biggest challenge, since those are key contributory factors to the success of the company and to getting customer loyalty.'

In this case, the action plan centres on the role of in-house customer training officers (CTOs). Their prime responsibility is to visit clients and offer advice and instruction on the use of new equipment and software.

This has to be done in a way that is timely, convenient for the customer, and takes due account of delivery and installation status. It is also important for the CTO to have the right background information and to know, for example, which models customers have used previously and what training they have received.

After analysing the practices and recent feedback, the team set itself three main targets relating to workflow.

These are to cut preparation time for on-site training, speed up the distribution of relevant notes and materials, and reduce the hours spent on arranging everything.

To achieve this, the team has come up with a series of measures that makes full use of available technology and are relatively easy to implement.

They include uploading training material on the company website, developing a system for on-site training appointments, and regularly updating information about installation status.

Overall, this makes better use of in-house resources and helps minimise disturbance for customers. The objective has been to spend 50 per cent less time on these activities, and subsequent calculations show a net cost saving of close to HK$160,000 for the first year.

Yu adds that there has also been a number of less tangible, but still impressive, benefits from the project. Most notably, there is generally a better understanding among staff about the effective use of resources; people see the need for continuous improvement of service deliverables; CTOs appear more professional; and customer satisfaction levels are up.

Sustained progress, though, depends on reviewing processes at least once a year and ensuring that other in-house teams - order fulfilment, sales and engineers - know exactly what is happening. Yu explains that this ties in with two continuing internal campaigns also designed to enhance productivity and quality. One requires staff to 'plan, do, check, act' as their basic approach to work.

'We have been educating people to do this and know expected outcomes,' he says.

'If you can't achieve something, you should know how big the gap is and then go through the process to identify the issues, come up with countermeasures, and act to keep improving every single task.'

The other long-standing campaign is to put the customer first at all times. It is built around enhancing reliability, responsiveness, relationship and value.

'In each category, we keep reminding ourselves where we have to do more,' Yu says. 'We want to develop the training, adapt the methodology, and provide the tools so our team not only provides recommendations to customers on document workflow, but also on cost savings and green initiatives.'