A few years ago, I helped a US hotel chain improve its valet parking service. Their approach worked fine in normal conditions but fell apart as demand peaked. Between 12 and 2pm, cars started backing up down the driveway, guests were left waiting in line for their cars to be returned, and both customers and the valet team alike felt frustrated, rushed and hassled.

While the solutions were relatively straightforward to develop and implement, the critical issue was to give the situation sufficient management attention and to look at the problem from a system perspective.

I don’t need to tell you that over the past few years, given the turmoil in customer demand, supply chains and operating constraints, most businesses have been stretched to breaking point. The question is whether you’ve been able to translate your ‘emergency’ solutions into longer-term performance improvements.

Whether you run an internal team or are directly responsible for customer service delivery, there are three key factors for you to consider, each of which you can leverage to increase the breaking point of your operations.

  1. How high are your standards? High-performance standards will usually lead to improvements in operational breaking points, by bringing greater management focus to the process. For example, while The Post Office is still content to operate long customer queues, grocery retailers have innovated on queue-busting measures and, led, by the Amazon Go store, you can now leave the shop without even using a till. How well do your performance standards meet the needs of your customers and how do they compare to those of your competitors’?
  2. What’s your availability? Availability is, in part, driven by capacity – whether that’s people, the number of physical units or your website’s processing capacity – but it also results from running effective and efficient processes and ensuring that your teams only spend time on value-adding activities. How are you improving your organisation’s availability to cope with peak demand?
  3. How quick are you? Faster organisations have a higher breaking point than similar, but slower businesses. Domino’s Pizza has built its business on a promise to deliver pizzas within 30-minutes, even at peak business times. To what extent are your processes faster than your competitors, and how are you leveraging them?

Off The Record: Breaking Point by The Specials

I’m here at breaking point, mind and body tired

Those plans for happiness have all expired

The sales pitch from door-to-door

Says feed the rich and hang the poor

Twinkle, twinkle little star

Point me to the nearest bar!