Don’t throw away perfectly good sandwiches: finding the need for PEX
With perfect timing, Paco Underhill’s episode of the PEX podcast was playing in my headphones as I walked into a New York deli for breakfast. As Paco finished a point about how small changes can make a big difference, I got in line, took off the headphones and placed my order.
What followed at the deli counter was too long and tedious to relay here, suffice to say that someone walked off with my sandwich, resulting in the sandwich-maker furiously making another, the other guy’s redundant order mocking us both from the counter. I was held up, the other customer was in for a disappointment, the sandwich maker’s mood had – somehow – darkened even further since I had walked in and the boss wouldn’t be happy with the wastage.
You wouldn’t think that getting a bagel with lox and a schmear would be difficult in NYC, but it got me thinking: process excellence can take many forms. The mistake could’ve been avoided if the sandwich maker had been more friendly and engaged in a bit of eye contact. He would’ve been more friendly if he wasn’t under pressure to take orders and make sandwiches for a growing queue while his colleagues had a conversation four paces away. They would’ve jumped in if they were trained up to make sandwiches. They would’ve been trained if management looked at the bottleneck and looked at the sandwiches in the trash and asked ‘how can we fix this?’
At the bright and shiny end of PEX, the alphabet of AI, IA, RPA and the rest beckon. Top level changes, however, need to be felt by the customer, or what’s the point? Too much talk of technology tempts some business owners into thinking it isn’t for them – and the fundamentals of good processes are dismissed.
Jorgen Lislerud from Circle K (again on the podcast - it’s addictive listening) speaks about rising through the ranks from Circle K store manager to running shared services for the chain. He says: ‘If you operate a store, you need to understand that everything you do ends up with facing the customer, delivering a smile and whatever the customer would like to get… The ultimate goal is to take RPA… all the way out to the stores. Eventually we can use automation, RPA, AI to close the office in the stores so that people can be on the floor doing what we should, facing customers.’
Process excellence sounds like it should be high level stuff, but achieving genuine positive change may mean flipping the model and looking at some of the most fundamental interactions between company and customer. Change, too often dumped on the front line staff while it’s business as usual for management, needs to be woven into the fabric of PEX: understand the tools you’re working with. You can’t ask AI to make you a sandwich (yet) and you can’t expect a sandwich-maker to be friendly when they’re under pressure, unsupported and having their umpteenth wrong sandwich docked from their wages.
An old joke in hospitality riffs on the idea that everything would work perfectly smoothly - if it weren’t for customers. Customers, however, are essential, whatever business you’re in. Would you rather spend your time getting new staff, or getting new customers? There’s not a lot of point in your business being at the cutting edge while you’re throwing away perfectly good sandwiches.