What do your customers hate about doing business with you?

May 1, 2012 by  

Last summer on the highway near my home, there was a program called the Fast 14 that rebuilt 14 bridges in 8 weekends. The idea was this: instead of taking the traditional route of a 3-4 year construction project, the Fast14 used extensive planning and staging so that the actual work of replacing the bridges occurred between 8 PM on Friday and 5 AM on the following Monday.  The approach, called accelerated bridge construction* saves direct costs through efficiencies and significantly eliminates indirect costs in the form of lost time in traffic snarls and the cost of ensuring work zone safety.

I’ve been fascinated by this because it’s a great example of how the shift to the knowledge era has provided the tools to fundamentally change any business. , the knowledge era brought entirely new businesses (Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc) but it also brings the potential to change even a very hard-asset-driven business like road construction. The driving technologies supporting the Fast 14 were knowledge-era tools like spreadsheets, project planning software and real-time communication.

But I struggled with the lesson here for businesses. How do you “see” opportunities like this to radically change your business? I think the lesson is about design constraints. Past approaches to building bridges focused on the bridge. This approach focused on the effects of the construction process on the community. By setting a goal to minimize community disruption (among other factors), the whole approach to construction was changed.

That’s how I came up with the question in the title. If you asked the average motorist what they hate about road construction, the answer would surely include traffic jams. As happy as we are that the government is keeping bridges safe, the inconvenience of the process is much more immediate and painful.

Even if your customers are happy with the results (the bridge you build for them), there are probably other aspects of the process of doing business with your industry and your company that are painful, inconvenient or expensive.  Put yourself in their shoes. Think about what your customers most hate about doing business with you and fix it, even if it feels radically different from what you do today.

* I was reminded about this program by a report last week in the NY Times about an Instant Bridge completed by the Massachusetts Dept of Transportation. Like the Fast 14 programthat built 14 bridges in 8 weekends last summer, this was part of the Department’sAccelerated Bridge Program as well as the national trend explained here by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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