It’s not unusual for growing companies to strive to follow their industry’s best practices. Adopting what trial and error taught others without having to endure the pain they suffered along the way isn’t just smart leadership. It’s also common sense. So there’s little noteworthy or innovative about companies embracing the expertise of their peers.

Our company attributes much of its growth to the excellence of our services, and a willingness to adopt those familiar best practices has been a critical element. But much of the true innovation that has differentiated us from the thousands of other firms in the business process outsourcing (BPO) arena has been rooted in many unfamiliar best practices.

Put simply, we’ve long studied the best practices of other industries and sought ways to apply those lessons to the company’s own operations. For example, while we do business with IT companies and are a large-scale user of technology, we don’t consider ourselves an IT concern. Still, when the company’s leadership team became familiar with the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) best practices for enhancing the experience of end-users, we recognized they could learn from them. 

We studied how to apply ITIL’s practices to our operation of help desks, fulfillment, and field services. Did it prove beneficial? Absolutely. We watched as measurement of end-user satisfaction climbed well above norms for BPO providers.

Driven by the successful application of those best practices, we’ve continued to look for ways to fine-tune our business offerings based on the expertise of other industries. Most recently, the company engaged a leader from the manufacturing world to determine whether Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing practices could be applied to its service-focused business processes.

The conclusions have been eye-opening. While many involve proprietary processes, examples of how BPO could be viewed through a manufacturing context offer some insight.

For one, a key component of Lean Manufacturing is a focus on identifying and eliminating as much waste as possible. In a manufacturing facility, waste is usually something tangible, such as scrap wood and sawdust in a furniture factory. Within a service-focused BPO provider, one of the biggest things that may be wasted is staff time.

To illustrate, one process in our fulfillment service involves items being picked from shelves, transported across the building to an area in which they’re prepared for shipment, and then transported back to the original location for pickup by the shipper. The distance between the two areas may not seem to be long, but when the time it takes for staff members to transport objects back and forth is projected across an entire year, the cost is significant. Bringing all the processes closer together will lead to reductions in time and limit the potential for damage.

The expert examined nine different types of waste — safety, transportation, defects, waiting, overprocessing, overproduction, motion, excess inventory, and unutilized talent — inherent in the way we do business. Take safety. Simple injuries carry both financial and time costs, and staff members handling fulfillment face all sorts of potential injury risks, from climbing ladders, to lifting and moving objects, to working with box cutters. Identifying safer working processes has a measurable impact on safety outcomes.

Another safety-related example applies to help desk agents, making sure they take breaks at the right time and perform simple exercises to reduce eyestrain and keep muscles loose. Those steps improve productivity and morale as they diminish the potential for stress-related conditions. Equally important in today’s job market, that helps to limit turnover.

Applying techniques that have helped manufacturers transform their workplaces and deliver the quality levels needed to thrive in a global marketplace will help us become even more efficient and effective, enhancing the company’s value to our clients. By using formal processes such as this, we can explore a wide range of improvement opportunities and prioritize them for the greatest overall benefit.

A perpetual dedication to seeking improvements in quality and efficiency has always been central to the company’s DNA, and discovering and applying non-traditional best practices from non-service industries results in innovative improvements to our services. Instead of simply duplicating what everyone else does, we explore areas other companies never consider and learn from what they find. That’s why our clients can count on us to continue to become even better at serving their needs.

Jeff Medley is the CEO and founder of Netfor,

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