What we can lea(r)n from the past – A Lean Deployment update

People By Nicole Zimmermann May 4, 2020

Wu WayWhen we started the WU WAY in 2016, we knew there was much to learn before we were able to send the organization on a cultural and transformational journey. One key component of the change management approach was to learn ‘Lean’ which is an approach that focuses on maximizing customer value by eliminating waste and continuously improving processes. It is focused on a long-term transformation of an organization to put customers always first and to   drive improvements that are sustainable. Lean practices systematically seek to achieve small, incremental changes in processes to improve efficiency and quality over time. A Lean organization is focused on breaking down silos by working across departments or functions to maximize customer experience and minimize time to market. At Western Union, we have adopted the lean and agile practices and tools to become a market shaper organization that delivers higher value and business growth for our shareholders, customers, and employees.  So, what did we learn about lean that we can apply today during one of the biggest economic crises globally?

Let’s look back for a second at one of the lean deployments that we ran back in 2017.  One problem that we wanted to address had to deal with the amount of calls we received from our customers about issues with their money transfer that couldn’t be resolved for them in their first outreach to us (called first call resolution). Our customers were very frustrated that they couldn’t get a straight answer or were handed off into the organization with no real follow through, which is a problem, if you don’t listen to your customer, how can you become a customer-centric organization? We brought together a young team of experts from customer care, digital, and compliance and built a cross-functional team in Costa Rica to problem solve how to improve second and third call resolutions over the course of six months. What became obvious from the beginning is that, if you are facing a very complex and challenging situation, just like today on a broader scale, it is critical to listen to the voice of the customer and understand how they are trying to cope with the situation (e.g. repeat calls to find someone to answer their question).

Another important component is to enable your teams to think differently and empower them to find solutions and make decisions. This was critical during our lean deployment but even more so now, when we all work from home, to trust our employees to do the right things for the customer and the company.

Let’s hear from some of our  lean deployment  pilot team members (aka XFT – the x-cross functional team) that included Lexy Nathalia Chavarria, David Mora Vargas, Marlon Herrera, , Jorge Esquivel, Josue Francisco Morales , about how they used empowerment to resolve the issues the customers complained about.  Bear in mind – they had a varied background before joining the team, including a former high school teacher, a Compliance associate, an intern, and a biologist.

Prior to the pilot, the customer care teams had a strong mindset of “this is how we’ve always done it.” There was a lack of role clarity and standards, leaders were not focused, processes were messy, lots of firefighting, and the customer did not appear to be the focus.

I was finding multiple issues for the customers with our website and even though I was reporting them, it seemed I had not much influence on the people/teams responsible to make changes - David

The team documented several of the challenges they were facing, such as website issues not getting resolved, being tasked with areas outside of their skillsets, lengthy processes affecting service, and clear opportunities for growth both personally and professionally.

I had a lot of good performers on my team, and some that were lacking the skills for the role – there was a lot of variability of performance among the team members - Josue

To address these items, they began to break down the key components and focus on where waste and duplication could be eliminated. Some examples include clear documentation to support assumptions, process mapping and confirmation, creating a culture of teamwork, collaboration and support, daily huddles to gain alignment and move work forward, and thinking with a customer focused mindset.

Same as today due to the coronavirus, you need to tap into various cross-functional knowledge and expertise to problem solve and innovate together, to address key challenges that our customers and clients are facing. No one is traveling at the moment, international money transfers and payments have slowed down, people are concerned about their health and want to get answers. Staying connected with our customers, listening to their questions and concerns, offering support and guidance on how to continue to safely transfer money or send payments is key. Tapping into that lean and agile problem solving mindset, helped us to overcome the  the challenge of closed retail locations by developing Western Union’s first digital location and home delivery for our money transfer customers. It also allowed us to innovate around “fast track accreditation” and esignatures to process onboarding for our Western Union Business clients in a work from home environment. We were also able to still engage with our payments client base by shifting  our communications completely digitally through webinars that educate them about currency risk, how to manage market events and help them protect their payments from fraud schemes.

The trust from leadership, the team building activities, constant motivation and the feeling that you were part of something important and would make a difference. We felt like we were all part of a family - Jorge

What is even more wonderful to see, is following the 2017 XFT lean deployment, the team came back together to share their experiences going through the process, how it helped shape their careers and built a long-lasting comradery. The key learnings that they carry with them to this day:

  • Structure and role clarity are key
  • Have a good plan in place
  • Think different
  • All ideas are heard
  • Strive for continuous improvement
  • Trust and respect

During the pilot, the team created a WhatsApp chat group. The group chats continue to this day, sharing life and career milestones, birthday wishes, jokes and offer support.

I’m more passionate about my job, always thinking outside of the box with a mindset of searching for continuous improvement and all challenges can be overcome - Marlon

As they got to know each other, they accepted their differences and worked towards using their collective strengths. Several shared that this experience was life-changing and brought more passion into their job and served as a point for professional growth. They needed each other to achieve their goals and that continues today with their current teams. Finally, it is all about the customer. They are the reason we are here and are at the center of our focus in our roles.

Wouldn’t this be a great outcome of the current crisis, if people would reflect on this as an opportunity to learn new skills or apply known ones (lean and agile) to advance out of this with a positive “can-do-change” mindset. As we emerge from this pandemic, my hope is that we all have become stronger, more connected, embrace diversity, innovation will flourish, and we do not take the status quo as the only way forward.

There are people you meet that cause an impact on your life, and that is hard to forget. Nicole and the rest of the team helped me become a stronger professional and I’m grateful for that - Lexy